Category Archives: impressions

One Leaves wants you to know it’s not too late to quit smoking

I’m not a smoker, but I did try a cigarette in high school–thanks, peer pressure!–and found it to be a terrible experience. I immediately began coughing uncontrollably, doubled over, and have never smoked another cig since. Sure, I’ve had some pot and cigars at various points in my life, but those are much different beasts to me, and I’m not addicted to them so many years later.

One Leaves‘ entire narrative is wrapped around quitting smoking, how smoking is bad for your health, and how badly it affects the body. I agree; don’t do it. There’s also elements of tobacco-related death in the game, with a theme that uses statistics to relay the fact that the few who start smoking rarely ever give up. I’ll credit the game for this because it is an important message that any smoker should hear. Alas, it’s difficult to take the game’s message very seriously at all due to how it plays and treats the player.

One Leaves starts out by placing you in a cage. Here, you’ll see three other characters in cages of their own. Each of you has a door to enter, which is locked until an audio message tells you that only one of you will escape. Hence, the game’s title. The moment the door opens, you’re free to patrol the game’s confined environments at your own pace though I guess the point is to move face and with urgency. You’ll immediately see a locked gate that has some power cables running from it. The goal is to follow each cable until you meet its puzzle; solve said puzzle, and move on to the next one until you reach the final area, which is a randomized maze to navigate.

There’s no shortage of framerate issues to contend with, as well as regular crashing and kicks to the Xbox One’s dashboard, which, for a free game isn’t the worst thing ever, but it also isn’t great either. Visually, One Leaves is ugly, complete with poor lighting, bland textures, and a lackluster presentation. The game’s audio work is also subpar.

Alas, I didn’t make it through the final maze quick enough, and so I’m stuck in One Leaves‘ smoky purgatory until another contestant tries to make an escape. Until then, I guess I’ll just hold my breath.

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Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Eat Them!

I like eating. Right now, unfortunately, due to issues related to my colon cancer, I’m not eating as much as I like. That’s a shame, both for me as well as the wonderful recipes my wife puts together. I hope to get back to a place where I can eat and not worry, but until then I guess I’ll just stomp around, destroying buildings and consuming humans for energy. Oh wait, no, that’s not me…that’s Eat Them!

In Eat Them!, you take on the role of disgraced government scientist Dr. Wilder. He has created an array of giant monsters to wreak havoc on the comic-inspired, cel-shaded city streets…because that’s just what you do when you are both disgraced and a scientist. I mean, it’s practically a law. Anyways, these big ol’ beasts eat people for power and destroy everything in their path using heavy-hitting melee weapons, mortars, powerful long-range lasers, and more.

Eat Them! lets you create monsters by plugging together arms, heads, and other pieces you’ve unlocked as you finish missions. After that, you’re tasked with taking out “baddies” across a number of different gameplay modes where you smash, kick, roar, and jump on buildings and vehicles that have earned your ire. Initially, this is a lot of fun and reminds me of the good times we all had with the 1986 arcade classic Rampage. The game has a solid look to it–I mean, I love all things cel-shaded–and it does feel good causing all this destruction, but unfortunately the fun only lasts for so long. The missions begin to feel repetitive rather quickly, and I just didn’t feel like progressing after a short while.

So, see ya in another life, Eat Them!, one where I too can enjoy consumption at the same rate and level as a giant monster.

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.

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.

Over the weekend, I played Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for free and found it to be okay

I don’t normally partake in many “free game weekends,” usually because I am too busy with other stuff to find the time to start something new, but also because I don’t like the pressure it puts upon me to hurry up and see as much content before this thing goes away in two days. That said, this past weekend, you could play Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for free as a promotion to up some pre-orders for the forthcoming Borderlands 3, and I decided to jump in. I’ve already played a skag-ton of Borderlands 2, but I never got to try the other one when it came out a few years back.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel begins some time after Borderlands 2 and Episode 3 of the subsequent game Tales from the Borderlands, on the flying city of Sanctuary, where the three former Vault Hunters Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai interrogate the ex-Atlas assassin Athena after having captured her from the Atlas Domes. Athena recounts her story, starting after the death of General Knoxx, when she received an offer to go find a Vault on Pandora’s moon, Elpis, from a Hyperion programmer named Jack. She joins fellow Vault Hunters Claptrap, Nisha, Wilhelm, Timothy (a doppelganger of Jack), and Aurelia on a spaceship headed for the Hyperion moon base Helios. On the way, they are ambushed by the Lost Legion, an army of Dahl soldiers led by Colonel Tungsteena Zarpedon, and crash-land onto the moon base. After meeting up with Jack, they attempt to use Helios’ defense system, but realizes there is a jamming signal coming from Elpis. They attempt to escape, but they are stopped by Zarpedon, along with a mysterious alien-like warrior. Jack sends the Vault Hunters to Elpis via a moonshot rocket.

It’s perfectly fine. To me, it mostly comes across as just another entry in the series, and you could play any of them and have basically the same experience of killing monsters and discovering a thousand different guns, shields, and grenades to equip. The only difference from one to another is really how the Vault Hunters play, and for this one I went with Athena. She’s a gladiator, first seen as an NPC in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC. She uses her Kinetic Aspis shield to block enemy attacks and can return the damage collected by her shield by throwing it at an enemy. I followed the Phalanx tree for upgrades, which focuses on combat support and improves the offensive and defensive capabilities of the Aspis.

Here’s the thing I disliked most about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel–the oxygen meter. See, most of the gameplay takes place on a moon or in outer space somewhere, and so, instead of just giving every Vault Hunter a spacesuit you must now pay attention to an oxygen meter. Run out of it, and your health begins to deplete. There are certain areas that refill your oxygen, but it just becomes a pain and one thing extra to monitor along with your shield and health bars. Plus, if you want to use a jump boost or ground pound move, it depletes the oxygen meter too. I’m not a fan of it and often found myself relaxing more once inside a building and not having to worry about it.

I’m now left with the choice to purchase Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and keep playing…or just wait for Borderlands 3 to come out. I think I’ll do the latter. Besides, I still have stuff to do in Borderlands 2 if I want a little more action.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Mugen Souls Z

For some reason, I thought Mugen Souls Z was an anime-based fighting game, something like Persona 4 Arena, which meant I could pop into it quickly, play a few matches, uninstall the beast, and write a few words related to the game as per my Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge feature. Alas, I was mistaken as this is a big-as-they-come JRPG, bursting with story, characters, more story, and some turn-based fighting, along with general elements of perverted skeeviness that I’m not down with. It’s not a hentai game, but it isn’t too far off in some aspects. More on that in a bit.

In Mugen Souls, the main protagonist Chou-Chou plans to conquer the universe by subjugating the seven worlds it comprises, as she thinks the planets look pretty. Traveling from world to world with her trusty companion Altis and loyal peon Ryuto, Chou-Chou aims to turn the heroes and demon lords of each world into her personal servants, saving the world from conflict in the process. That’s all fine and good, but none of that matters anymore because I’m playing Mugen Souls Z, which is the sequel to Mugen Souls, released in North America on May 20, 2014, for the PlayStation 3. The protagonist in this one is Syrma, a goddess aiming to stop an awkward ancient threat.

Mechanically and visually, as far as I can tell, Mugen Souls Z looks almost identical to its predecessor, but with some improved presentation bits. It’s got a cutesy look to it, with bright colors and bubbly personalities. You are not bogged down immediately with a hundred and one tutorials, as they are instead spread out over the first few hours, but even still, I found it to be a lot of concepts to juggle in my brain, from hitting crystals on the battlefield to turning enemies into peons and so on. The gameplay is also similar to the original; players will travel from one world to the next, finding spots on the map that will ask them to perform actions, such as handing over a certain item, using a certain fetish/affinity to flip their switch, or fighting a specific amount of monsters. Otherwise, you spend a good amount of time in G-Castle, which is both your flying spaceship that can transform into a big robot and your hub area full of shops and things to interact with.

Battles are somewhat tactical and turn-based. You can move around your party based on a circle, positioning them for maximum damage or even hitting multiple enemies at once. Each arena has a set of crystals, which, when activated, grant boosts or have negative repercussions. These allow for a certain level of cleverness on the player’s part, meaning that you can position yourself in such a way to literally cut damage in half while also boosting your own magic power. It’s a simple concept, but one that I still haven’t really figured out how to trigger. And no, I don’t want to go back and read the 15-page tutorial on it.

Ultimately, here are the things I liked:

  • That part where your G-Castle transforms and battles another large robot in the same style as the one-on-one duels in the Suikoden series, where you need to pay attention to the dialogue to prepare for the incoming attack.
  • The late title card that shows up, along with a music video, at the end of chapter 1.
  • That’s it.

Mugen Souls Z is way too talky for me. I’m not against a lot of dialogue, but much of it here feels unnecessary or repetitive. It took about two hours just to get to actual gameplay. Also, this is a very Japanese RPG, meaning that there’s a strong focus on fetishes, bouncy boobs, upskirt shots, and steamy bath scenes. Heck, the first piece of armor that you’ll unlock is underwear, and you’ll be able to accrue others as you play. I personally don’t know the ages of the main characters, but they look young to me, even as gods, and it’s extremely off-putting. I’m sure there’s an audience for this game, but I’m not part of it. And so it goes, uninstalled, never to know what ultimately happens to Chou-Chou, Syrma, and their friends. Maybe it is better not to know in the end.

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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Payday: The Heist and Payday 2

If you have Netflix, I highly recommend you check out Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist. It’s a 2018 true crime documentary series about the murder of Brian Wells, a high-profile 2003 incident often referred to as the “collar bomb” or “pizza bomber” case. I didn’t really have a great intro planned here, seeing as I myself have never once robbed a bank or attempted to, but I am fascinated by those that put these actions into motion. I figured I’d use this time to recommend a new show for y’all to watch, as if there aren’t enough of those out there right now. Also, Reservoir Dogs.

Payday: The Heist and Payday 2 are cooperative first-person shooters developed by Overkill Software and published by Sony Online Entertainment. In them, players use a variety of firearms to complete objectives, which are usually centered around stealing a certain object, person, or a particular amount of money. This is not a run and gun ’em all down kind of game. Killing civilians is punished; players instead may take a limited number as hostages. Should any player get arrested, which happens after taking enough damage and not being revived in time, during the heist, one of their teammates may release a hostage, allowing a trade to take place. While playing the levels, players will notice a lot of variation in a single level, as there are often a large number of random events programmed in.

Payday: The Heist focuses on four robbers–Dallas, Hoxton, Chains, and Wolf. Their first heist takes place at the First World Bank, where they enter a vault by using thermite hidden on the inside of a photocopier and try to steal a large amount of money. A post-game message congratulates the group, telling them that they are “set for life,” but recommends more heists, including robbing drug junkies in an abandoned apartment complex and ambushing a prisoner transport in heavy rain weather, simply for the enjoyment of the players. Payday 2 takes place two years after the events of the previous game. A new gang comes to the Washington, D.C. area to perform another heisting spree, and you can control of one of the gang’s twenty-one members and perform heists alone or with up to three teammates.

I…was never any good at either of these two games. Trust me, I tried. However, I always felt like I was dragging down my team and never knew what step to take next. Like, for instance, when the cops show up…do I engage with them or not? I often did, because that’s the mindset in a first-person shooter–you shoot the things shooting at you so they, y’know, stop shooting at you. However, this always ended poorly. I do like the idea of a cooperative heist game, as heists in general are cool and probably the only thing I enjoyed from Grand Theft Auto V‘s main campaign, but I would need to play this with friends and talk through our plans very thoroughly before taking action. Alas, on the PlayStation 3, I have no friends, and so that will never happen. Goodbye to both of y’all.

May your next digital bank robbery go smoothly, all you fans of Payday: The Heist and Payday 2. I’m rooting for ya, truly. Also, watch Heat, one of the greatest heist films out there.

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.

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.