Category Archives: impressions

Five things make a post, so please stop uppercutting me to death

mk20704

Things have been a little quiet over here at Grinding Down, and there’s a good reason for it, though I can’t reveal much at this time. Basically, I’m neck-deep in comic work and have been severely limiting my ferocious playing of videogames. Crazy, I know, especially since I’m right in the middle of my 2015 goal of seeing Final Fantasy IX‘s end credits–hey, remember when I wrote about how something always comes by and pushes me away during the second or third disc? Yeah, that’s what’s going on at the moment, but I have the fullest of intentions to get back to solving what’s really going on in that Black Mage Village.

That said, there has still been a few glimmers of activity, which brings us to this style of post.

FINISH HIM/HER, I CAN’T

I picked up the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection the other week during that crazy good PSN flash sale and have been inching away at it slowly. There’s not much to actually inch away at, seeing as these are literally just a column of enemies to three-round fight until you get to the end. Naturally, I remember everything a little different, back when I used to play these on my neighbor’s Genesis, and I don’t recall the computer AI being so difficult. I’ve even dropped the difficulty settings down to “very easy,” seeing little change. I won’t feel satisfied until they are all best, but for now I’ve only beaten the original Mortal Kombat (using Raiden, of course), though Goro still took a number of tries in the double digits.

Free-to-Pokemon nightly

I continue to use up my allotted five hearts in Pokemon Shuffle once a day, at night actually, just before Mr. Sandman comes calling. Strangely, since changing the system clock on my 3DS due to Daylight’s Saving Time, the game thinks I’m trying to pull one out from under it and has restricted my access to the “Special” levels. Unless I want to do blah blah blah–whatever, game. It’s not my fault you and the system don’t grok how the practice of advancing clocks during summer months by one hour works. Currently, I’m stuck on level 120, unable to take down a Mega Glalie, which is forcing me to go backwards, grind my hearts away while occasionally capturing a new Pokemon. It’s fine, really. So long as my captured pocket monsters are slowly gaining XP every night, I’ll eventually be strong enough to hit level 121. You gotta believe!

Greetings to Gracie

This should be no surprise to anyone, but I’m still playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf religiously and continuing to unlock slash see new elements of the game some years after its release. Such as finishing up Gracie’s Fashion Check quest four times, which results in the fashionista giraffe opening up a store of her own and upgrading your department store to fit all her swanky merchandise. Still need to pay off my house in full, fill the museum with more bugs, fish, and pieces of art, and get Katrina to open up a stationary fortune-telling shop in the town square. There’s always something to do, and even when there isn’t, just chatting up neighbors and pulling weeds is enough to satisfy me for fifteen minutes.

Not epic text, but bigger

Several weeks back, I saw word of another Dragon Age: Inquisition patch incoming, and usually these patches are just a long list of very specific catches/fixes that I might not ever notice or come across, but one item in this update stood out to me: Added an option to control the font size of subtitles. I’ve run into a lot of problems with the latest entry in the Dragon Age series–see here, as well as see here–but nothing got me to quit that game hard after only a few hours than its teeny tiny–nearly unreadable–text size. I’ve since loaded up the game again to discover that, yes, the text is much bigger and easier to read. Perhaps I’ll continue on with Girgna’s journey and actually leave the Hinterlands after Final Fantasy IX.

Unsuccessful hunter of monsters

Three times I’ve entered a physical store and tried to buy a copy of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate only to be told to scram. Well, no, not that. But mainly that such-and-such didn’t have a retail copy for sale. Now, I know I totally could go and order one from Amazon or download it via the eShop (actually, I can’t, as I doubt I have enough free blocks space for it), but that’s not my main operative. I want to go into a store and buy a thing and then have that thing in my hand, ready to be consumed. Me being me, I’m going to take this as a sign that I probably shouldn’t buy MH4U even though it seems like an interesting action game brimming with cats and cat-fed puns. This also happened when I tried to get Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Fire Emblem: Awakening, though I did procure a copy of the latter eventually. Meh, time will tell.

And there you go. Five random thoughts for a Friday.

Naut wants to know if there is life on Mars

overall naut impressions gd

Let’s see. I’ve experienced Scribblenauts from its earnest beginnings to its later, mega-popular forms, thought not all of ‘em. I’ve also played Outernauts though Insomiac decided to take it all down off of Facebook some time back. A part of me would eventually like to try out Treasurenauts. Until then, at least I can say I played Naut, which, if keeping with the theme, should have been more amusingly titled as Nautnauts. I don’t know. I think every game title should end with the nauts suffix; yes, even you, Chrono Cross.

Anyways, the stylistic and explorative Naut is from Lucie Viatgé, Tom Victor, and Titouan Millet, members of the Klondike collective. According to their website, they come from the north of France and are not (er, naut) in fact a delicious ice cream treat that comes in over two dozen flavors and includes choco tacos, ice cream sandwiches, and stickless bars. I’m not familiar with too much of their other game work, but if it is anything like Naut, count me in. Or, at the very least, count me in to begin sifting through their, surprisingly, large backlog.

What is Naut all about? That’s not really something easily answered. You might as well be asking about the meaning of life. Let me steer you in a direction though using the developers’ own words: wander around, drive through the desert, hear what the cosmos has to tell you. While some elements might remain the same, everyone’s experience with Naut will be slightly different. For me, I immediately took our leading astronaut and goofily ran him/her over to the car, and then proceeded to drive around Mars and see its sights. Which consisted of strange plants, additional houses with odd inhabitants, and large rock formations, as well as a lightning storms. I watched the day turn into night and then back into day. Lastly, before deciding I had seen my fill of the Red Planet, I honked my car’s horn enough times to lift both it and its drive high into the air, far enough to no longer be able to see the alien ground below; naturally, I had the astronaut exit the vehicle and fall to his/her…feet. Yup, no fall damage, no fall physics–but that’s okay. It was still a beautiful descent.

Visually, I think Naut is out of this world, pun fully and gleefully intended. It’s a whole lot of pink and pastels for this Martian frontier, but it works, presenting this unknown planet as friendly and inviting, something you shouldn’t be scared to explored. You should be excited, like a kid getting a birthday gift early. The piano-lead soundtrack is melancholic, but adaptive, changing depending on whether you are driving at high speeds or galloping on the ground. Either way, it is at once calming and unnerving, reminding you that you are alone out here, but that that’s a-okay. Mars is both empty and massive, yours for the viewing. Interestingly, you can play Naut with a second player, navigating your collective way from one home to another, which sounds like fun, though I will probably never get to experience it.

Curious to see Mars for yourself? Good at clicking on links? Then grab a free copy of Naut over this way (or drop the developers a few bucks) and enjoy those outer space lightning storms as much as I did.

Kram Keep is a tiny yet towering take on Metroidvania

kram keep overall impressions gd

In a different life, one where maybe I didn’t try to have a career or binge-watch TV shows via Netflix or sleep or, heavens no, make a name for myself through art and writing, I’d be covering every Ludum Dare that happened, deeply examining all the themed creations, whether they got voted highly or not. Alas, that is not me. Instead, I kind of stumble across a Ludum Dare jam game months or even years after it was born. Well, with the topic du jour, I’m not terribly late, seeing that Ludum Dare 31 went down back in early December 2014, its jam theme being “Entire Game on One Screen.”

Kram Keep certainly meets that requirement. It’s the age-old classic tale of a blue-haired vampire hunter, a massively large castle full of traps and projectile-shooting enemies, and an evil master at its top, awaiting your blood. It’s a Metroidvania-style game, stuck on a single screen, meaning you can press the Shift key at any time to zoom out the map all the way and see everywhere you’ll eventually be going; I liked this, as it proved useful in guiding me to the next area, as well as keeping me informed about what was to come and the locations of vital power-ups. If anything, this seems sides more with the vania part than Metroid, but it is hard to say. As you go, you can collect hearts to increase your life bar, but you really want those special abilities–wall jump, double jump, and spread projectiles–if you are going to make any significant progress. Little crosses act as both checkpoints and health refills.

There were perhaps two or three tricky spots in Kram Keep that involved precise wall jump timing, and using the letter X and the arrow directions on the keyboard complicated things. As always, I prefer my platformers with a controller in hand, but sometimes you aren’t allotted such a benefit. In truth, where I needed a controller the most, was against the final boss. He has a pattern, so it eventually comes down to memorization and quick reflexes, but I still managed to put him six feet under with only a sliver of health left. Once you kill him, spoilers, much like with the end of Super Metroid, you have a limited amount of time to escape the castle, which means reversing the way you came in, though some routes are now closed off; I failed it the first time, but by hitting continue on the main menu, you can give it another go, and from what I can tell, it only changes a small part of the credits. Overall, the experience is tough, but fun, something I’d definitely recommend platforming fans to check out.

Since I love statistics and games that spit them out at the end of your run, here are my final, less-than-impressive tallies for Kram Keep:

  • Time played: 0:42:51
  • Deaths: 52
  • Enemies killed: 160
  • Crystal Hearts: 5/8
  • Difficulty: Normal

Ludum Dare 32 is coming up in the middle of April, though there’s no listed theme just yet. Until then, I think I’ll snoop around a bit more in Ludum Dare 31‘s entries, as I’m almost positive there are a bunch more innovative takes on the “single screen only” theme. Hopefully I can find a few other titles to highlight like Kram Keep, that do a lot with very little.

Big Boss will carry on the fight after Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

final thoughts for mgs 3 snake eater gd

I’m not sure why I was so worried that Drew and Dan over at Giant Bomb would get ahead of me in this sneakathon to experience all the Metal Gear games, to fully absorb their cool and zany and ridiculousness, one after the other. Well, I’m aiming to play ‘em all, but I believe they’ll be skipping Peace Walker, and already bypassed the original MSX2 titles and, thankfully, the lackluster VR Missions.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater goes the distance in terms of providing a realistic setting where sneaking, where hiding in grass and tiptoeing around booby traps, makes much more sense than an isolated oil rig or even an Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility. The trick to super-sleuthing through a Cold War jungle is to no longer rely on your old tricks, such as a radar and pressing against a wall before peaking out from behind it to pop a guard in the noggin with a tranquilizer dart. I spent the majority of my time as Naked Snake laying flat on his stomach, crawling through tall grass and closely monitoring my camouflage meter. My trek from screen to screen wasn’t a perfect, spotless run, as my stats at the bottom of this post will reveal, but when I got through a scenario relatively unnoticed, with only snoring bodies left behind, it sure felt awesome and super spy cool.

I’ve already talked a bit about some of the game mechanics, as well as my love for healing radio frequencies. For this post, I’d like to quickly examine that classic Metal Gear Solid juxtaposition of realistic and bonkers, of military-driven jargon and a man that shoots bullet bees from his mouth. You could compare it to a James Bond film–for me, I’m thinking of Roger Moore’s Moonraker–where the action is certainly outrageous, but believable in some slant of light. Perhaps if you squint. The weapons are traditional and accurate for the time period, but a number of items, such as porn, toss-able venomous snakes, and the crocodile cap, can lead to rather amusing moments. The game even goes so far as to comment on its James Bond-like elements, with Naked Snake refusing to be put next to such a goofy master spy.

Also, more so than the previous games, one of which had you staring closely at Meryl’s butt, there’s a high amount of sexuality here, starting naturally with EVA and her zipped down bikini outfit, kiss of death lipstick, and press LB to stare at her chest sequences. Later on, there’s breast and crouch grabbing, as well as nods to Yevgeny Borisovitch Volgin’s bisexuality. Some of it is handled better than others, and yes, scene where EVA removes the tracker from Naked Snake’s nether region, I’m looking directly at you.

Lastly, other than the lengthy cat-and-mouse chase with The End and emotional, time-restricted last go against The Boss, the rest of the boss fights are a major disappointment. Yup, I’m even including the Shagohod. Gone are the gray characters you are battling with, replaced with cartoonish, black-and-white named goons that mostly only say their codename and then explode when you defeat them. I don’t think I could tell you much about The Pain, The Fear, or The Fury, as the game barely reveals anything about them. Remember how you got to know Metal Gear Solid‘s Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf intimately after defeating them? That kind of stuff doesn’t happen here. These COBRA unit members are merely roadblocks, and they don’t take too much work to bypass; once you do, you’ll never think of them again.

As per tradition, I took a snapshot of my end game stats screen:

mgs 3 final stats

I think that 22 hours and 45 minutes logged play time is a bit bloated; a few times, I left the game on the “pause” menu or sitting at the end of a codec call if I needed to do something else or got a phone call. I killed 142 people, but I swear the majority of those were after the fight with The Sorrow. Leading up to that legendary encounter, I was pretty conservative with lethal rounds. Other than that, I’m not sure what to make of the crocodile title rating…is that good? So-so? For beating the game on Normal difficulty, I got a bunch of special items, like a tuxedo and The Boss’ Patriot gun, but I’m not going back into the jungle just yet. Though I did miss the Trophies to poison a guard and blow up an ammunition shed. Hmm.

For some reason, I always thought that Peace Walker came out next in the series. Nope. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is up next, and I know very little about it, save for something about a funny install process and that Snake–as in Solid Snake–is old and coughing up blood. I’ll get to it soon. That is so long as another sneaking mission doesn’t occupy my attention first.

An endless supply of handsome princes to Little Briar Rose’s rescue

little briar rose gd overall impressions

The original version of Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm, meaning the non-Disney take or even the more recent stab via Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, tackles such hot topics like adultery, bigamy, murder, rape, suicide, and even cannibalism. Yes, this is how fairy tales went back then. Thankfully, Little Briar Rose from Elf Games is not quite as dark as its source material, both in look and narrative, though we never do see what happens once the prince makes it to the castle, leaving that ending to either your Disney-slanted imagination or something more horrifying, the kind of twist that George R.R. Martin would appreciate.

But what is Little Briar Rose, other than a different name for a complicated tale of a comatose princess? It’s a point-and-click adventure game using a stunningly gorgeous stained glass art style, revolving around this plot: a princess has fallen under a curse that puts both her and her whole kingdom to sleep, with thick briar bushes blocking the way inside her kingdom, and the only way to break the curse is for a prince to awaken her with a true love’s kiss on the lips. However, in order to clear away much of the thick briar bushes and open up a path forward, the prince must first help the magical denizens of the forest. There are wishes to be granted still. Some are basic fetch quests, some involve a wee bit of puzzle solving, some are multiple choice-driven, and they all require a lot of backtracking.

Overall, Little Briar Rose isn’t a very long adventure. I think there are a total of five or six screens to explore, with plenty of revisiting between them all to solve every last puzzle and clear away those thorny vines. One puzzle asks you to construct a house based on a crude drawing, another requires you to gather specific information and relay it correctly, and the remainder involves finding items and giving them to the right non-playable character. Here’s the main deal: you’ll need to talk to everyone you’ve met, multiple times depending on the situation, to be set on the right track. If you feel stuck or unsure how to push the puzzle forward, go and talk to every merman, fairy, and gnome you see. Even that crow atop those mushrooms. Talk, talk, talk. Some of the dialogue is a little tedious to sift through, but it is well-paced and amusing for the most part. Obviously, the game’s art style is a delight to behold–and I wanted more screens to gawk at more colorful images–though the limited soundtrack grows tiresome quickly.

Interestingly, you can fail at several of the puzzle scenarios in Little Briar Rose, resulting in the death of your prince. No worries though as a new one quickly shows up to carry on the previous one’s torch and try again. This prince will have a new name and differently-colored hair and clothes, but otherwise, it’s just another empty husk to move around the game’s world and do your bidding. Adventure games like Gemini Rue and Beneath a Steel Sky have implemented death before, but they actually abide by the laws of death; here, it doesn’t make sense or even feel necessary. All it does is kill a few more minutes, making you backtrack to whatever puzzle you were at, as well as redo the steps you previously took to begin solving it if you forgot to save beforehand. I’d rather have seen some kind of “lolz you so wrong, prince, try again!” message rather than this, and trust me, I saw enough new princes spawn to earn an Achievement notification. Seeing as that was the only Achievement to pop up during my time in Princess Aurora’s land and that there’s no way to even view them, it came across as a waste.

I don’t want to come across too negative, as it was an enjoyable and certainly unique adventure gaming experience. At least there was no cannibalism. You can grab a copy for zero dollars for either Windows or Mac OS X at Elf Games’ website. I also scrolled through the developers’ blog, and it seems like Little Briar Rose is going through some revamping, with new art to come. I might give it another go down the line, curious to see what else changes.

Healing radio frequencies are Naked Snake’s escape

metal gear solid 3 cure radio thoughts

I’m actively not looking up every secret or Easter egg for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but a scan through its Trophy list revealed something I never even knew existed back when I played the game in 2004 slash 2005, on the good ol’ PlayStation 2 in my bedroom at my parents’ house while home from college. I’m specifically talking about healing radio frequencies, seeing as I already knew how to make Snake throw up after spinning him in circles via the surgery screen.

In short, there are special frequencies you can tap into to hear a song play and get your health healed at the same time. Music really is magical. There are eight in total, and once you dial in to them, they stay in your menu of codec options for future use, such as when you run out of life medicine, so long as you don’t mind kicking back and digesting a tune or two. Trust me–I don’t mind, not when the songs are this good.

For those that wanna try ‘em out yourselves, drop to one knee and switch to any of these following frequencies, though they might be different for other difficulty settings than Normal:

  • 141.85 – “Don’t Be Afraid” by Rika Muranaka
  • 142.09 – “Sea Breeze” by Sergei Mantis
  • 143.32 – “Sailor” by Starry K.
  • 144.86 – “Jumpin’ Johnny” by Chunk Raspberry
  • 145.83 – “Salty Catfish” by 66 Boys
  • 146.65 – “Rock Me Baby” by 66 Boys
  • 148.39 – “Surfing Guitar” by 66 Boys
  • 148.96 – “Pillow Talk” by Starry K.

Before I go and confirm anything, I have to wonder if any of these groups are real. I’m no Matt Pinfield from 120 Minutes, but I’m pretty up and up on music, especially fascinating with stuff from the 1940s through the 1960s. Clearly, Chunk Raspberry is a punny play on Chuck Berry, but that still could be someone imitating the legendary pioneer of rock and roll music.  Is the name Sergei Mantis a nod at Psycho Mantis from Metal Gear Solid? Was he originally a lead guitar player in a sultry jazz band before becoming the kind of man that reads your memory card data and tells everyone how much you love the Suikoden series? Not that I mind that, of course.

Okay, I did a little digging. As it turns out, all of the healing radio tracks were actually written by Norihiko Hibino, who selected song titles and artist names as a parody of music in the 1960s. I’m not sure if Hibino played all the instruments as well, but regardless of that…yowza. Pretty cool. I’m a big fan of Starry K already and would totally buy a t-shirt after one of their fictitious concerts. Since discovering these frequencies, I listened to all eight of them in a row to get a Trophy, but have popped one or two, not while injured, but when just chilling in some heavy brush or atop a cliff, enjoying the view. No one tells Big Boss how to his music; I know the years don’t match up, but it would’ve been great to have a Bruce Springsteen track in there as well.

I’m not 100% thorough when it comes to calling everyone on the codec, in every new situation or desperate moment, but I can’t recall these radio frequencies ever being brought up. By Major Zero, by Para-Medic, by Sigint, by EVA. I imagine people just stumbled on to them by accident at first. Either way, I think they are one of my favorite Easter eggs ever; it would’ve been one thing to just include a Chuck Berry song in there, but to go to the effort to write a song to mimick Chuck Berry and the times…that’s some Hideo Kojima-esque level of dedication.

Also: one of the healing radio frequencies should’ve played Snake Eater‘s main theme, which fully recovered Naked Snake’s health and stamina, as well as made him invincible for a short period of time. You know it’s a good idea.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes on a 1960s Soviet jungle setting

mgs 3 snake eater gd early impressions

I’ve only played through Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater once in my life, and I remember very little, save for the obvious much-written about boss fight with The End. And a few other details. Borrowing the game from a friend kept the pressure on me to burn through Naked Snake’s map-less operation as quickly as possible and return it to its rightful owner. This is ultimately why I no longer borrow things; something goes wonky in my brain, and all I can concentrate on it how I’m holding captive someone else’s possession, as if they are just standing behind me, tapping their foot in impatience, demanding it all back.

All that said, I was hoping to not start playing Snake Eater this soon, especially considering I just started Final Fantasy IX up. Timing is everything though, and Metal Gear Scanlon is back in action, which means I need to stay a bit ahead of them to both enjoy my second replay and experience Drew’s first dip into Hideo Kojima’s Cold War antics. For me, it’s more enjoyably knowing what’s coming up and watching someone’s reaction as they get there. Granted, I don’t need to see everything first, but knowing that a young revolver-less Ocelot meows to summon extra back-up is the sort of ridiculousness that I like to be aware of as I watch Giant Bomb play.

It’s only been a few months since I took down twenty-five Metal Gear Rays in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but whatever skills I refined then are now completely gone. In the few hours I’ve spent running through a Soviet Union rainforest, I’ve lead Naked Snake to his death more than at least twenty times already, and this was me just trying to get a handle on movement, shooting, and CQC-ing, all of which are still as clunky as ever. I was totally spoiled by radar and vision cones in the last game, now struggling with even being able to tell what’s around me when flat on my stomach in some thick, dark grass. There’s also a ton more meters to pay attention to–health, stamina, camouflage, battery life, the cure menu, your backpack–as well as your surroundings, such as enemies, wildlife, hidden mines, and so on. As a general rule, I go into these games trying to be stealthy and unseen, but I’m not afraid to pop an unconscious soldier in the head if he’s giving me grief; yes, I know what repercussions this will wrought.

Progress-wise, I burned through the Virtuous Mission, showed The Pain, The Fear, and The End what real pain, fear, and end is, respectively, during Operation Snake Eater, if you catch my drift. If I’m being honest, I died once during the ravine-split encounter versus young Ocelot before those named gobbers, but didn’t die at all during the named boss fights. Which I find odd. I’m playing on Normal, but so far, I feel like these fights were…fairly easy. Certainly much more forgiving than the boss fights in Metal Gear Solid. Amusingly, I have more trouble getting through an area of four or five guards, or one loaded with booby-traps.

Everyone plays Metal Gear Solid differently. That’s just a way of life. I’d love to be sneaky all the time, but when the going gets rough, I do enjoy using CQC to knock dudes unconscious. Or the occasional shotgun blast to see their bodies cartoonishly zip backwards. Right now, there’s a lot of…let’s call it heated criticism over how Drew is playing in Metal Gear Scanlon 3, but I think he’s solving problems as he see fits. Personally, I’d like to see Dan be less of a backseat driver and let his friend experience the game in his own manner, his own pace. Sure, we as viewers might miss some content or silly codec calls or episodes could go on for pretty long, but if it means Drew takes his time (or doesn’t) and clears a room of soldiers (or doesn’t) without being seen (or is), then that’s more rewarding and still entertaining.

With that, I just saved before the ladder sequence. You know what I speak of. I’m thinking I’m now past the halfway mark, with a goal of finishing Snake Eater up soon so I can get back to learning equipped abilities in Final Fantasy IX.