Category Archives: impressions

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Steredenn

Man, it sure does seem like a bulk of the games given out to PlayStation Plus subscribers, at least on the PlayStation 3, are shoot-em-ups…or, if you are hip with gaming lingo, shmups. That word just makes me think of shrimp, but whatever. Some that I’ve already gone through and eliminated from my overstuffed console include Sky Force Anniversary, Titan Attacks!, and Ultratron. Looking ahead, there’s even more to come, namely R-Type Dimensions, Hyper Void, Retro/Grade, Super Stardust HD, and Galaga Legions DX. Ugh, oh boy. Seriously can’t wait. That was sarcasm, by the way, as this is a genre that I just can’t get too excited over, despite there being some pretty good games in it, such as today’s topic du jourSteredenn.

Well, Steredenn by Pixelnest Studio is a roguelike-shmup video game for nearly every console and gaming system; that was easier to write than to list every single one of ’em, trust me. It’s a frenetic and chaotic space shooter, carved out of big, beautiful pixels, with larger-than-life boss battles. The game plays horizontally, with your ship on the left and most of the enemies appearing on the right side of the screen…though not always. You’ll engage in fights against dreadful space pirates in a never-ending combat for your survival, mostly by firing weapons at them until they explode into pixelated bits, and this includes floating meteorites coming your way too. There are four modes to try out–normal, daily run, arena, and superplay–13 bosses to take on, special events, 30 environments, 25 upgrades for your spaceship, 35 weapons, and hundreds of enemies waves to deplete.

I played through the normal mode for a bit and had a pretty good time. I felt way more in control of my spaceship than I did in In Space We Brawl and Sky Force Anniversary, easily navigating between strings of bullets and incoming enemy ships. I like the inclusion of different weapons, though the massive drill attachment to the front of your ship seems a bit over-powered, if you ask me. It does become more bullet hell-esque as you progress further, with each boss ship getting bigger and nastier, though that’s life for space pirates, I guess.

The Daily Run is exactly what you think of it, so long as you are thinking about Spelunky‘s Daily Runs. Basically, everyone gets a go at the same scenario and tries to do their best, seeing where they end up on the leaderboard. My Daily Run featured the Shockwave weapon, which is an up-close sort-of-explosion, and I did terribly, unable to beat the first boss, getting a score of zero, but still managing to place fourth on the leaderboard. I don’t think a lot of people are playing this game on this console.

I tried to find out if steredenn is actually a word, and, as far as I can tell, no, it is not. Unless you follow the Breton-English Dictionary, in which case it is either a “a noteworthy or popular person, often a performer or athlete” or “a luminous celestial body that is made from gases (particularly hydrogen and helium) and forms the shape of a sphere.” Sure, one of those will work in this instance. All I know is that it is no longer installed on my PlayStation 3.

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.

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Just grinded for seven hours in Suikoden III, ask me anything

When last I left off about my progress on Suikoden III, I was starting the game over, but this time I went with Chris Lightfellow instead of Hugo, thus seeing the game from a different perspective. I’ve completed all chapter ones for Hugo, Chris, and Geddoe, along with optional side story stuff, and was now ready to move into someone’s chapter two. Since I ended up finishing Geddoe last of the three and liked a lot of the characters I saw there, namely Queen, Jacques, and Joker, I decided to pick his chapter two to begin first…and oh boy was that a mistake. Allow me to tell you why.

The crew is currently holed up in Caleria, but wants to go to Le Buque in pursuit of…well, I don’t really know. Some boy-priest and a bunch of soldiers are hunting after the Flame Champion, and I guess this is something that interests our eclectic group. To be honest, the story in Suikoden III hasn’t been as gripping or memorable as previous games. Anyways, to get to Le Buque, the party must travel across the Mountain Path, which I did just fine, avoiding the optional Rock Golem boss and heading right for the next location…only to immediately walk into a boss fight that completely destroyed everyone in a matter of a few turns. So…I had some grinding to do, grr. At least seven hours worth, if my calculations are correct.

Everyone in the party–that’s Geddoe, Ace, Joker, Queen, Jacques, and Aila, if you didn’t know–was, at this point, around levels 30-31. By the time I was done doing my thing, they were all levels 37-38. Here’s how I did it, as unexciting as it sounds. I continued to wander the first section of the Mountain Path, back and forth, getting into a few fights; after my party had too much and I ran out of healing, I headed back to Caleria to sharpen weapons, upgrade armor, learn lessons, and then sleep and save at the inn. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. Grinding is never fun, and I’ve even had to do some in EarthBound to get tough enough to beat the Titanic Ant and his Antoid goonies. But alas, here, it felt inevitable.

My true goal was not to immediately head back to Le Buque, but to defeat the Rock Golem and with ease, even though it was an optional boss fight. I wanted whatever goodies it held within the treasure chest it was guarding. The Rock Golem is slow, but it has heavy armor and packs a lot of physical power. When it charges up its fist for a special attack, it can hit up to four party members if they’re surrounding the beast, which is not good. My strategy was to immediately use Aila’s Clay Guardian when the battle starts to up everyone’s magic and defense. I then relied heavily on Queen, who has a Wind rune, to heal those that needed healing, and made sure everybody stayed above 150 HP. Victory came quite easy actually, and the treasure chest was full of goodies that should hopefully help in the beginning fight at Le Buque. Here’s hoping no more grinding is required, at least for this chapter.

I’m still not 100% in love with the combat in Suikoden III, which groups people into pairs. This means if you select “attack” for Geddoe, his partner Ace also will attack, even if you wanted him to use a healing item or rune power. It’s one or the other, and that locks you out of a lot of choices. This isn’t a huge deal in many of the minor battles, but boss fights require a little more strategy to keep everyone’s head above water. It’s also not really clear who can team up with each other for united attacks, but maybe I’m just not seeing it somewhere in the menus.

Lastly, my save data for Suikoden III currently says around 19 hours and change–though remember that at least seven hours was spent solely on grinding out levels and experience points–and I have still yet to acquire a castle headquarters. Sigh. Hopefully sometime soon!

The time to chat up every NPC in EarthBound has arrived

We are finally here, and by we I of course mean just me, but here it is: it’s 2019, and I’m playing EarthBound for the very first time. Y’all might remember me getting a digital copy of this game for the Wii U back in, oh, May 2015. Well, now that I plan to get a Nintendo Switch and put my Wii U away into storage, I’m forcing myself to see as many of the games I have on it before the inevitable takes hold and all I do with my free time is play whatever this new Animal Crossing is going to be. Until then, uh…fuzzy pickles? Yeah, fuzzy pickles!

I’m sure I’m just rehashing what everyone else out there already knows and has known for years upon years, or at least 1995, but here we go. EarthBound takes place about a decade after the events of Mother, in the fictional country of Eagleland, which doesn’t mean a whole lot to me seeing as I haven’t played anything else in this legendary series. You start off as a young boy named Ness–get it?–as he investigates a nearby meteorite crash with his neighbor, Pokey, to find his brother, appropriately named Picky. There, they stumble upon an alien life-force known as Giygas, which has enveloped and consumed the world in hatred and, consequently, turned animals, humans, and mundane objects into malicious creatures. However, Buzz-Buzz, a small, bee-like creature from the future, instructs Ness to collect melodies in a Sound Stone to preemptively stop Giygas, and so the grand adventure begins.

Well, when I say begin, I really mean…wander around Onett for hours on my own quest to talk to every single person and try to go through every single door before moving forward with the plot. There are a ton of NPCs, and many of them offer good advice or tips, and some just say really strange things to Ness or provoke him into a battle. I think at one point someone, or something, tasked me with answering a specific Beatles-related trivia question (FYI, the answer was “Yesterday”). It’s all a little strange, and the strangeness is strange because, looking at EarthBound, it appears to not be your typical JRPG. For one thing, it is set in a somewhat modern-looking time period, with drug stores, burger joints, and town halls to explore instead of fantasy-like villages and mountain caves as seen in games like Illusion of Gaia and Secret of Mana at the time.

I’m also doing a bit of grinding, both in terms of combat and getting money from my phone-father deposited into my bank account. Since Ness is by himself at the start, some enemies, mainly the Sharks when they double or triple team him, can be too much to handle. So I’m fighting dogs, crows, and snakes on repeat, but Ness is now around level 8 and has better gear, which means he takes less damage. Also, when battling against truly weaker enemies, combat is handled automatically without having to go into the whole transition thing, which is nice; I liked it in Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies where enemies ran away from you, and I like it a lot here too. It means less mashin’.

Let’s talk about the combat in EarthBound, which is turn-based and does not feature random encounters. Ya-hoo. You see the enemies on screen and can try to approach them from behind for a potential bonus attack, or, if they get the jump on you, they get first dibs on moving. In combat, characters and enemies possess a certain amount of HP, and attacks to an enemy obviously reduce their HP. Once an enemy’s HP reaches zero, it is defeated…or, to use the game’s language, tamed. Sometimes you will receive an item after the battle, like a Cookie. As far as I know, you only control what Ness does, but maybe that will change once I get more peeps in the party.

So far, since I only really have Ness in my party, the battles are a bit one-note. I simply spam the attack button each turn and occasionally have to stop to eat a HP-refilling item or use a spell, called PSI attacks, which use up your PP. It often feels like luck or the roll of a die when attacking; sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss, and sometimes you land a critical blow, but there’s really no guarantee to what will happen, which can be a little frustrating early on. I did lose in battle to a couple of Sharks, which dropped me back at home with half my money gone; I had tried to “run away” from the fight twice to no avail. Again, it might be all about that luck stat, who knows.

I’m only a couple of hours into EarthBound and still haven’t visited Giant Step. Trust me, I’ll get there. However, I’m sure there is a lot more to see and do before this adventure concludes, but I’m definitely intrigued enough to keep going. There are a couple of things I don’t immediately like, such as a limited amount of inventory space and how expensive sandwiches are, but I can get over that thanks to the game’s colorful aesthetic and bouncy soundtrack that borders on pop and general weirdness. Seriously, the music makes some hard, dramatic swings from wandering around town, to entering shops, to engaging in battles, and it’s all kooky and catchy.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back with more thoughts on EarthBound. Until then, answer me this–can Ness get run over by cars in Onett? I’ve been avoiding them, afraid to find out the truth.

You can totally play or not play Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms

There was a time when I was trying to document all the games that didn’t actually run on my then-laptop, which, to me, was an amusing topic. I liked the honesty behind it. Since then, I’ve gotten a better laptop though it still can’t run everything. No, really, I mean that. The game Everything stutters, and ABZÛ feels like you are swimming through the thickest JELL-O pool ever, even on the lowest of low settings.

Well, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms was one game I tried to play, but couldn’t get it to run properly; I’ve since then tried it out on Steam on my new laptop and enjoyed it moderately, as I do with most idle clicking games, save for Harvest Seasons, which I can’t stop “playing” in the background while doing other work, but the game is getting a second chance at life with me by now being playable on the Xbox One. And still remaining free as a bird. Or rather a crow, which I can shoot down by hitting RT+X and earning a bit more gold.

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms is an official free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons-based strategy game from Codename Entertainment…though those are the developer’s words, and I have a hard time calling anything I’m doing in this truly strategic. Basically, you assemble a party of adventure-thirsty champions–all varying in race, gender, and style–and master the art of Formation Strategy as you take down wave after wave of enemies. Depending on who is next to who in your party, different buffs are available. For instance, if the elf lady is behind the dwarf dude, the dwarf dude–sorry, I can’t remember any of their names–might do 25% more damage…or something like that. As you battle, you’ll collect gold, which you can spend to upgrade your heroes, collect unique gear, and unlock new champions.

Naturally, since this is a free-to-play game, it is supplemented by in-game purchases up the wazoo. Chests containing special equipment and gold can be purchased to help the adventurers progress further faster. However, good things come to those who wait, or, in this case, simply don’t play. Your champions will continue grinding down enemies to a pulp even when the game isn’t open, so when you return to it you are showered in a large amount of gold, plenty of enough to then upgrade your heroes and take on that previously hard-to-beat boss. This kind of thing always reminds me of Fable II and the money you’d earn while not playing from investing in real estate across the fantasy land.

I do actually enjoy the amount of attention Codename Entertainment put into the campaign stories, with them often leading to side variants to try later on. That said, there’s a ton of stuff around the edges of Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms that make my head spin, and I just can’t be bothered to figure out what any of it means. There’s snowflakes to spend, there’s event currency, familiars, farming techniques, idle trials, and so on. Ugh. Like Clicker Heroes, there’s depth to dive into, if you want, but it’s all a little too much for me these days. For me, I like playing the game a little, but really like returning to it after not touching it for days, upgrading my champions, making a wee bit more progress, and then rinsing and repeating with the ignore it for days part. Also, mashing the B button gets tiring super fast.

Continue to smoothly dodge bullets with SUPERHOT: The Card Game

Let’s just get this out of the way right from the start:

SUPER…HOT.
SUPER…HOT.
SUPER…HOT.

Phew, there. Now we can begin proper and talk about SUPERHOT: The Card Game from Grey Fox Games, which is both alike and different from its videogame counterpart, which I greatly enjoyed playing through last year. Y’know, despite not really understanding anything related to its narrative. This is a micro deck-building game, based on something called Agent Decker, which I have not checked out yet, though there seems to be a free print-and-play version. In this one, naturally, you use abilities and items to deal with increasing threats, such as men with guns and flying bullets. Threats you eliminate are added to your hand, giving you improved abilities and more options while bringing you closer to victory; however, you need to be careful because the more cards you use, the faster you move through time, which is represented by a line of obstacles moving in your direction.

Okay, let’s get more detailed without hopefully making your eyes glaze over. Rules for board games and card games can sometimes be a lot to take in, which is why simpler games like Just Desserts, Bandido, and Elevenses are more digestible. Basically, on your turn, you need to interact with obstacles–whether killing them or knocking them out, though I still don’t understand how you knock a table out–to increase future possibilities or give you more time before bullets begin to appear in the line, which are harder to deal with. The cards that you use are discarded to the obstacle pile while cards you pass by are placed in your personal discard pile, creating a mini-deck of cards. The game has three types of obstacle cards: enemy, scenery, and objects, with each type giving you different abilities when they’re in your deck. Your goal is to complete three tiers of missions–level one has one mission, level two has two, and so on–while not running out of cards or ending up with four bullets in your hand.

Initially, I was very confused with how a turn went in SUPERHOT: The Card Game. I ended up watching three or four videos to finally see how things are supposed to go, and I get it better now. Still, I’m constantly flipping through the rulebook to make sure I’m doing things correctly. For my last game, I managed to get to the third tier of missions, but ended up running through all the bullets in the bullet deck, which is an automatic loss. Wah. Here’s hoping my next run is more successful or, at the very least, more confidently done. There’s both cooperative and versus modes, but the game was definitely designed for solo gaming, and I think that’s where it will remain with me.

I really, really love the look of SUPERHOT: The Card Game. Obviously, it draws many of its images from the videogame, which is sparse on details yet high on style, but the cards themselves manage to contain a lot of information without being completely full of clutter or text. They maintain the dedication to the colors red and gray, and the mission cards all contain a bunch of code that probably says something to people that can read code, but I’m left in the unknown. Either way, it’s slick and cool and feels futuristic.

SUPERHOT: The Card Game features game mechanics that forced me to figure out the best tactical and strategic solutions in each moment.  Do I destroy that flying bullet or clear out the enemies that, if I don’t, will add more bullets to my deck? Do I want to empty my hand, moving time forward quickly and risk seeing more bullets coming my way? Sometimes the best laid plans don’t always work out, but, in the given moment, you do feel in control. This often resulted in tense decision-making, but felt satisfying when things did work in your favor.

For a solo game, it can take anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on how often you need to re-read the manual, but once things get going, and you understand the flow of turns, the game stops being about the manual and specific rules and more about moving through time as you see fit, and for that SUPERHOT: The Card Game flips a table and lives to see another day.

See what horrors The Doll Shop holds at your own risk

Naturally, I was drawn to The Doll Shop for its beautiful watercolor artwork and depiction of life in the Japanese countryside, not its focus on dolls. I’m not into dolls in general, but I’m really not into dolls that look like little children or come alive and are violent. Maybe I watched Child’s Play when I was too young or maybe I still can’t get that episode of The Twilight Zone out of my head where a ventriloquist’s doll is both alive and neglected, replaced by one called Goofy Goggles, and exacts revenge on his master by flipping their roles; that said, I’m perfectly fine with nesting dolls. Either way, they aren’t for me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t for others. Such as the main protagonist in The Doll Shop, a young man in his twenty-somethings that repairs dolls for a living, though I don’t think we ever learn his name…

The Doll Shop comes from Atelier Sentô, which is a French duo, specifically Cécile Brun and Olivier Pichard. Their work is often based on their travels throughout Japan. This one is set in a small, desolate village during the winter. The village is still reeling from a girl disappearing weeks ago, but life goes on, especially for our leading lad, who is repairing broken dolls while also collecting butterflies in his shop’s back room. However, he is harboring a great and terrible secret, and when a childhood friend returns to the village and reconnects with him, he finds himself unable to not contain what he has done.

The game is a mix of horror, romance, and light puzzle solving. It’s both a point-and-click adventure and visual novel, and the game offers you several choices to make throughout your days in this cold, dark village. These will affect your ending, of which there are three to see, and you can also collect posters as you explore around. The only tedious part of The Doll Shop is when you have to constantly dip your paintbrush in the paint after each action you take to fix the doll, but that’s a minor complaint at best. Everything else is sublime and beautifully done, though I do wish there was more things to click on and get descriptions of, especially when it comes to things like bath-houses and shrines, which, as an American who has never really left the country, except to go to Canada, I do not have a lot of experience with.

The graphics for The Doll Shop were hand-painted with watercolors by twenty-three students over three days in January 2018 during a workshop at the ECV art school in Bordeaux, France. Each student selected a part of the background, such as a tree, house, or mountain, and drew a sketch of it on paper. Next, they used a light pad and an 8B pencil to copy it on to watercolor paper. After that, the drawings were painted with watercolors. Finally, all the drawings were scanned, cut out on Photoshop, and incorporated into the game, which was made in Unity with the Adventure Creator add-on. The results are simply stunning, both in motion and as simple stills; I personally loved the look of all the buildings as I explored the village while the snowfall changed from light to heavy and back to light, all backed by a wonderfully quiet yet atmospheric soundtrack.

Anyways, just like with every Metal Gear Solid game, you get a progress screen at the end to tell you how you did and what is left to uncover. If I was to make up a title based on my work, I’d say I earned Gossamer-winged Butterfly. Right. Moving on, my results after the first playthrough of The Doll Shop are as follows:

I don’t plan to replay The Doll Shop. My story is my story, and those choices I made are locked in place. Ending B is all she wrote. I tried to play the main protagonist as a broken man breaking down, desperate for help, but sometimes unable to speak the words. He did terrible things and is terribly troubled, and soon everyone will know. I hope he gets help, and I mourn for those in mourning, now burdened with extra trauma. Yet another doll story to forever stay in my mind and haunt me for years to come. Thanks, Atelier Sentô.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – In Space We Brawl

This won’t be a long post, I promise.

In Space We Brawl is a twin-stick shooter that clearly wants you to play locally with a bunch of buddies next to you on the couch. I have no such buddies, nor enough PlayStation 3 controllers to do such a thing, which is why I was also quick to remove things like Atomic Ninjas and Starwhal. Local multiplayer matches allow for up to four players, and you can even put together teams. There are more than 150 combinations of weapons, such as laser cannons, plasma swords, flame launchers, and guided missiles, and ships to try out. Each map is full of obstacles to also avoid too, such as asteroids and black holes.

I first did a few of the “challenges,” which are more or less tutorials. The writing around these is snarky and somewhat aggressive, like when the game congratulates me on being able to use my thumbs to move the ship around. Gee, thanks. I’m not a big fan of being made fun of when trying to have fun playing a game, and I’ve seen this type of snark too often lately. It’s becoming exhausting, if I’m being honest, and it just feels lazy overall.

You can add bots and adjust their difficulty to your matches if you don’t have anyone else to play with, which I did. I left them on “medium” difficulty and found myself exploding every few seconds. I also didn’t find the shooting very satisfactory or even effective, but maybe I attached the worst gun in the game or something. Either way, I didn’t have a good time, and so that was it for me and In Space We Brawl.

Remember, in space, no one can hear you uninstalling a game from your PlayStation 3.

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.