Category Archives: impressions

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Titan Attacks!


It’s 2018, and I’ve never played Space Invaders, and I probably never will. That time has passed. Though clearly I’m aware of it and its influence on the gaming industry; I mean, you can’t walk down the Ocean City boardwalk and pass a T-shirt store without seeing those iconic pixelated aliens on some piece of unlicensed merchandise. Space Invaders was one of the earliest shooting games, releasing in arcades in 1978, with the goal being to defeat waves of aliens with a laser cannon and earn as many points as possible. It sounds simple to our ears today, but Tomohiro Nishikado, the game’s developer, had to design custom hardware and development tools to make the thing.

But I’m not here to actually talk about Space Invaders specifically, but rather a tribute from Puppy Games called Titan Attacks!, and yes, the game’s title ends in an exclamation mark, which will probably drive my editing eyes nuts, but that’s life. In this arcade shoot-em-up, you play as the last surviving tank commander on Earth and must single-handedly turn back an invading evil alien army called the Titans. If you can drive them back across the solar system, you might be able to defeat them on their homeworld, saving yours from total annihilation.

Titan Attacks! retains the same easy-to-learn and score-based gameplay of classic arcade shoot-em-ups, but does bring in some new features and strategies, along with stylish neo-retro visuals and a pulse-bursting, head-bobbin’ soundtrack that is ultimately the thing I came away from liking the most. Earning bounty money allows to you upgrade your tank-ship-thing with extra cannons, better shields, and special single-use powerups. While zipping left and right on the ground and firing up into lines of incoming aliens, you’ll also need to destroy falling wrecks, dodge hurtling asteroids, and capture escaping aliens. It starts out slow enough that you can keep track of everything, but the chaos ramps up the further you progress. Thankfully, you can take a hit or two and keep moving, though you’ll lose your multiplier bonus. No biggie.

I played Titan Attacks! for an hour or two, but didn’t get too far down the planetary path–there’s something like 100 levels/waves–before both taking too much damage and losing interest. That’s fine. I had fun for a bit, but this style of game is never going to hook me (as you’ll see in an upcoming post on Ultratron, also published by Puppy Games). Chasing high scores through repetition does not get me salivating one bit. Now, maybe if I could dress my tank up in different outfits and craft powerful weapons from various materials and check off quests one by one in some sort of log book, I might more interested in seeing this to the end, but alas, nope. Not for me.

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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Santa needs your help finding the new year in Where is 2018?

I am the dark, hairy monster-men in Where is 2018?, asking Mateusz Skutnik incessantly where in the world his brand-new game about finding the next darling of a year is…shame on me. I am horrified with myself and reminded greatly of this moment about entitlement issues. Having started this series of his with Where is 2016?, I’ve now come to look forward to playing these wee adorable and free things at the very start of January, in the days between break and work, before everything returns to mundane routine. I need to remember that there is a human being on the other side of these projects, and that art and creation takes time, energy, passion.

Where is 2018? follows the new path set by Where is 2017?, with a gnome-like Santa Claus being the lead hero and some light platforming–which is not ideal with a keyboard, but this isn’t of the same lengths as, say, NieR:Automata, so that’s fine–versus solving puzzles with a point-and-click method. You move through several rooms, moving platforms via levers and jumping to open doorways, all while hairy monster-men watch from the background, stoically asking their one and only question. The games continue to be fun, funny, and super slick in terms of art and animation, and I’ll openly admit that I did get stuck right at the end on the last puzzle, but so long as you keep at it, you’ll figure it out and welcome 2018 with open mitts (hint: windmills).

We are not owed anything, certainly not Where is 2019?…but if Skutnik makes it, I’m gonna play it. Until then, here’s to finding 2018.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Blood Knights

I’ve talked before about playing bad games previously here on Grinding Down and the importance of seeing them through and even finished one last year solely to get my first Platinum Trophy, but I won’t be completing Blood Knights. It’s just that poor. I mean I want to, because I like finishing things–whether that’s art projects, books, nicely cooked meals, laundry, whatever–but the amount of frustration this undead monstrosity is throwing in my face is not needed. Not in 2017, not in 2018, not ever. I’d rather eat a garlic bread sandwich and watch the sun rise. Thankfully, Deck13 Interactive’s hack-and-slash RPG from 2013 can now participate in my highly praised and much copied PlayStation Plus purge program.

For those that don’t know, like me when I got this thing for free for PlayStation Plus some many months back, Blood Knights is a downloadable action RPG for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. The game was developed by German studio Deck13 Interactive and published by Kalypso Media, also from Germany. You play as bland-as-bread Jeremy, a renowned vampire hunter who is trailing behind a priest in order to stop an army of blood-suckers who have stolen the Blood Seal, a magical artifact which…due to it being stolen, shattered the moon. I won’t fault you for not comprehending that sentence because I played the game for a couple hours and did not comprehend much altogether. Also, Jeremy has been “bonded” to a female vampire named Alysa for unclear reasons. Well, maybe videogamey reasons.

Blood Knights features both single player and local cooperative gameplay modes, but does not allow for online co-op, and so my short time with it was spent playing by my lonesome, mouth agape in disbelief at almost every step of the way. When playing solo, you can swap between Jeremy and Alysa with the touch of a button, which strangely has a short cool-down period, but the other character simply disappears from the level instead of hanging around, being controlled by AI and helping you fight the bad guys. Both share the same lifebar too. Which is strange for a game built on co-op and dropping in and out of play, but hey, I’m no videogame developer.

The main gameplay is linear dungeon crawling with sword swingin’, loosing arrows, magic spells, and picking up loot, kind of like Diablo 3, but far inferior. Far, far inferior. You gain experience points and pick up small piles of gold along the way as you battle back people who hate vampires, and all of that feeds into upgrading your character’s skills or buying new gear, but I found the menu UI and look to be so ugly that it was difficult to even navigate. I struggled to see the stat differences between the weapon on the ground and the weapon in Jeremy’s hands that I often left the sword where it lay. Same goes for each character’s respective skill tree and the controller layout, both of which are hard to grok. Attacking enemies is unsatisfying, even with Jeremy having a super-move clearly inspired by the likes of one Crash Bandicoot.

I feel like it is almost cruel to talk about the game’s graphics and voice acting–because they are atrocious, a heavy adjective for sure–but it’s a big part of what turned me almost immediately off of Blood Knights. Here is the game’s intro. Everything is so wooden and, excuse the wordplay, lifeless, from how the characters move to their speech to the attempt at creating a stirring moment from a dramatic score. I also experienced a good amount of jank, such as frequent slowdowns and popping and flickering shadows. This speaks to the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation as a whole, but there’s also a ton of light bloom happening in nearly every scene. Lastly, take notice of how Jeremy is dressed in a full set of armor, and Alysa is yet another highly sexualized female protagonist for the industry, forced to do battle against enemies with swords and spears in an outfit incapable of protecting her skin from getting poked.

Blood Knights isn’t even close to mediocre. Cue the sunrise.

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.

Finally seeing Suikoden III from some different perspectives

Ugh, I’m not doing too well on those gaming resolutions for 2017 that I listed out at the beginning of the new year. Well, hold up, I did manage to cross the 80,000 Gamerscore mark, but other than that, my Steam backlog is either the same size as before or larger than ever, Earthbound is still untouched on my Wii U, and I don’t know what I was thinking when it came to musing about “creating something.” I mean, I’m already doing that with my art over at Death, Divorce, and Disney, slow as it may take, though perhaps one day I’ll do something with game design. I sure do have a bunch of ideas, but not the knowledge to put them into motion, and knowledge doesn’t come quick or easy.

Anyways, here is me equipping a mighty ice-pick of endurance+3 and chipping away at the legendary glacier boss that is Suikoden III. I played it for a couple of hours several years ago, eventually running into an issue with the game soft-locking on a loading screen due to scratches on my PlayStation 2 disc. That sucks, but I quickly moved past it and found a bazillion other games to occupy my time, including the original two games in the series. I then acquired a digital version for the PlayStation 3 about two years ago, easing my heart and mind somewhat with the knowledge that I could return to Konami’s third entry in the RPG series via a scratch-free experience. Still, it remained neglected once more…until now-ish. Dun dun dunnn.

This time around, I’ve decided to start Suikoden III from a new perspective, selecting someone different from my first go at the game. See, Suikoden III uses something called the Trinity Site System to tell its tale through three different POVs–namely, Hugo, the son of the Karaya Clan Chief Lucia, Chris Lightfellow, a Zexen Knight, and Geddoe, a mercenary from the Holy Kingdom of Harmonia. Phew, that was a mouthful. Last time, I went with Hugo, and this time I started the adventure off with Chris Lightfellow, who, by name alone, you might mistake as a man, but she’s actually the acting captain of the Zexen Knights, as well as the Tenbi Star, just like Kirkis was in the original game. Cool, cool. Basically, you get to play snippets from each of these characters’ storylines, with some overlapping others, and I suspect they will eventually meet up and form a single through-line to follow to the end. We’ll see.

It’s still a little early for me to say this, but I’m not a fan of the changes Konami made to combat in Suikoden III. Don’t worry, don’t worry, everything is still turn-based, but characters are now paired up during fights. This means you give a command to each pair rather than to them as individuals, which often makes the combat feel clunky and not highly strategic. For example, one person gets a specific action, such as casting a spell or using an item, while the other is forced into attacking by default. It’s not Miitopia random, but you are definitely not 100% in control of what everyone gets to do, and that’s a bummer. Also, I’ve put in about six to seven hours so far, seeing chapters from all three characters–Chris, Geddoe, and Hugo–and I’ve seen only one or two unite attack options during battle, which this JRPG series is famous for. Also, because we’re jumping around a lot, I’ve been reluctant to drop a lot of money on new armor and weapons or training because I don’t yet know who is going to be around for the bulk of Suikoden III, which is mildly frustrating.

So, clearly, it’s been slow going, but it has been refreshing to see some new characters and areas this second time starting Suikoden III. Also, evidently during my first time with Hugo I had missed an entire side quest involving bandits and Melville’s father, so that was great to see, content-wise, even if it did little to change what happened in his first chapter. I’m now playing as Geddoe and his Twelfth Unit from Harmonia as they embark from Vinay del Zexay…to do something. Not quite sure what their goal is yet. I’m eager to see a few more towns as Vinay del Zexay is not fun to explore and somewhat confusing and does not hold a candle to Gregminster, Greenhill City, or even Gordius. Then again, these games are all about building up a base. Speaking of that…

From the brief bit of research I’ve done, it sounds like once all three starting characters hit chapter three, I’ll have to make a major decision, one that will definitely affect how the story moves forward. It also sounds like, after Suikoden V, Suikoden III takes the longest for everyone to get inside a castle and start building up your army, which is one of the best parts of this series, and that’s a bummer because I want to go to there right now. Ugh. Here’s hoping I hit that milestone somewhere in 2018, the earlier the better. Because then I eventually need to try out Suikoden IV. And Suikoden Tactics. Oh, and I should probably re-play Suikoden V at some point because that is mostly a blur to me now.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Hoard

The first time I became aware of the concept that a dragon even liked gold was as a young lad reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The powerful, fearsome dragon Smaug, who invaded the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor 150 years prior to the events in the book, is now happy to spend the rest of his days sleeping among his loot, a vast hoard of shiny treasure. Eventually, he must defend it from a group of 13 Dwarves mounting a quest to take the kingdom back, who are helped along the way by the wizard Gandalf and the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Look, if you haven’t read The Hobbit, please do so as soon as possible; if you hate reading and prefer watching motion pictures, you can skip the Peter Jackson films and eat up the 1977 animated take from Rankin/Bass and Topcraft instead.

Anyways, enough about The Hobbit. I’m here today for another exciting edition of Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge to tell you a bit about Hoard, which I think I got as a freebie way back in September 2014, though the game came out a couple years before that. Honestly, it’s a good amount of fun, but not a keeper. Your true goal in this action strategy game is to be the greediest dragon of them all and amass as much gold as you can before time runs out. You do this by spewing flames and burning towns, castles, and crops to a crisp, revealing piles of gold that can be carried back to your nest. Naturally, not everyone is down to party, and you’ll have to fight off archers protecting towns, knights out to rescue stolen princesses, and other dragons (which can be controlled by other players) that have their own hoards to build.

Every piece of gold you bring back to your lair in Hoard will give you experience points, which, after getting enough, can be spent to level up your dragon. Your options include making it fly faster, have stronger armor, and a more powerful fire breath. There are a handful of stats you can choose to boost, and you don’t need to stress too hard over this as your dragon is reset to nothing at the start of every game. I focused early on speed and fire-breathing and later would up my dragon’s toughness as more difficult enemies reared their difficult heads.

There’s no campaign to follow here, which is okay, I guess. Hoard‘s core mode is called Treasure Collect, which not surprisingly tasks you with collecting as much gold as possible over a 10-minute period. There’s also Princess Rush, Survival, and Co-oP, though I only tried the former and not the latter two of those types. I do like that no game is longer than 10 minutes, which means every action counts, and you can’t dilly-dally about. Your dragon’s skill will grow tremendously over that short span, but I did often feel like I was just getting into my groove as time was running out. Which only made me want to jump right back into another match.

Hoard is definitely one of those quick fixes type of games, like Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac. Where you can dip into it quickly and have a good time and bounce out before the sun sets. There’s an in-game achievements system, but I don’t have it in me to play hundreds of matches to see these things pop. I enjoyed the few that I did play, and that’s that. Enjoy your pile of gold for eternity, dragon, because I won’t bother you anymore. Or, much like with Super Motherload, if I do feel the urge to poke the slumbering beast, I’ll grab you from Steam instead.

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.

Let loose in Prey’s luxuriously haunting sci-fi playground

It truly is surprising to me that I didn’t fall for Fallout 4 as much as I initially imagined I would, considering the hours and thoughts I put into Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. The game didn’t strike me the same way, and I’ve tried going back to it several times, only to get as far as rescuing Preston and his people and bringing them back to Sanctuary, before losing interest. Still, I love all things Fallout-related, like Fallout Shelter and cute little collectibles, and am super curious to see how the Fallout board game works, especially since it can be played solo, something I actively look for now in my tabletop games. However, this post isn’t actually about Fallout 4, it’s about Prey, the new hot thang from Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda in 2017, which is turning out to be the Fallout 4 game I wanted all along.

In Prey, the player controls Morgan Yu, either as a man or woman, exploring the space station Talos I, in orbit around Earth–Moon L2, where research into a hostile alien collective called the Typhon is underway. Unfortunately, because you know nothing can ever go right with doing science stuff in outer space, the Typhon escape confinement, and Morgan must use a variety of weapons and abilities derived from these nightmarish alien monsters to avoid getting killed while searching for a way to escape the station. It’s a haunting tale of loss and domination, told through environmental storytelling and revealing audio logs that bring to life many, many characters that are very much dead and destroyed. Or sometimes turned against you. Either way, the narrative is strong, believable.

Prey is a systems-driven adventure, playable in a number of ways. An immersive sim, if you will, in the same vein of BioShock and Dishonored, letting you make your way through levels and complete missions, but not enforcing the means by which you must get the job done. Which makes sense considering this is French developer Arkane’s bread and butter for the last eight-ish years. Still, the amount of freedom you have is almost unheard of, both in terms of playing style and exploration, especially once you get to the Talos I Lobby and have access to the no gravity area just outside its walls, which lets you travel just about anywhere you want on Talos I, so long as you’ve unlocked the right doors and can survive the trip. Early on, I suffered from choice anxiety and stuck to the main path, but I do plan to return and roam more freely next time.

Lucky for Yu–cue cymbal crash sound effect–the space station you are on was designed to also research and produce Neuromods, which go right into your eyeball to help make humans faster, stronger, and smarter. These are where you get your skill points from, to upgrade powers and unlock abilities, and you can find several around the environment, but what I found refreshing is, if you want and have the crafting resources to do so, you can make as many as you want through the Recylcer and Fabricator. It almost felt like cheating when I 3D-printed three of them in a single sitting (light spoiler detail: there will be a moment in the story where you can’t do this anymore for reasons, so strike while the iron is hot). My playstyle so far has been mostly human powers, like hacking and gaining more health from kits and food, with a light touch of aliens powers, specifically Mimic and Kinetic Blast. I like being able to repair broken turrets though they now see me as an alien threat since I’ve unlocked too many non-human perks. That was a neat surprise.

Life in Prey is harsh, tough. The might sound obvious when discussing a space station amuck with telekinetic and transforming monsters that want to eat your flesh and soul, but I thought I’d say it anyway, to justify to myself very soon that it is fine to dial down the difficulty setting. I’m currently playing on whatever the default it is, and I’m trying to play it like I would Fallout 4–stealthily, sneakily, avoiding as many fights as possible. Unfortunately, you will have to get your hands dirty eventually, and this is where I struggled with the combat. The guns don’t feel great, even after updating my silenced pistol a bunch, and they clearly want you to use the GLOO cannon to slow everything down and whack it with a wrench, but that’s easier said than done when the enemies move far more swiftly than you. Health and suit armor drops quickly, and resources, so far, are extremely limited. Occasionally, I’ve had to sneak by enemies through creative means, like throwing items for distraction or turning into a banana. Yup, you read that last part right.

I’m near the end of Morgan’s quest. Still, whenever I am done with Prey, whatever that means since I may be curious in a second playthrough on the easiest of difficulty settings to see what life is like with, say, only alien powers or doing my best to read every single e-mail I can find, I think I might need to revisit System Shock and give it a fairer shake than trying to play it when extremely sleepy during an Extra Life stream. Or System Shock 2. Or Dishonored. Or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Look, I have a lot of immersive sims on plate, so I better start feasting.

A congregation of cassette tapes transforms Small Radios Big Televisions

I grew up on the cusp of mix tapes and mix CDs, that span between the late 1980s and into the 1990s, spending my time as a young boy listening to the radio, waiting for a specific song to come on and record it with a tape deck cradled in my lap. Frustratingly, I’d often capture a snippet of commercial in there or the DJ talking over the first few seconds, permanently changing the song to my ears for years to come. Oh well. There are still several mix tapes in my possession given to me as Christmas gifts from my sister Dina that I cherish and no longer have a way to listen to anymore, and I’ll always prefer tapes over CDs despite now using a thumb-drive in my car full of MP3s.

Either way, these tapes were listened to over and over and over, taking me away from the bullies outside my window shouting mean things about me keeping to myself to musical worlds ruled by the likes of David Bowie, the Steve Miller Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc., and so I really resonated with the cassette tapes you find in Small Radios Big Televisions that transport you elsewhere when you drop them into your portable player, the TD-525.

Small Radios Big Televisions is the very title that inspired the My Laptop Hates These Games feature here on this gracefully aging blog of mine, and so I thought it only fitting that it be one of the first games I try to run on my brand new, fancy laptop. And good news–it worked perfectly. Not a single hitch or stutter or black screen of death or obtuse error message laden with computer jargon. So, that’s good. Also, the game’s pretty good, a bite-sized adventure that sees you descending into abandoned factories in search of lost cassette tapes which hold mystical, door-powering gems for you to find. Sometimes you need to manipulate the tapes first by tossing them against a magnet, distorting them. Progress is hidden within the spools of magnetic tape.

Most of the puzzles in Small Radios Big Televisions focus on fixing dormant machinery in these deserted locales, and these honestly don’t require that much effort. You’ll find doors you can’t open, which means searching for a gem in a tape. If you can’t find a tape, it’s probably behind a door or gate, which can be opened by correctly utilizing gear pieces. If you have all the tapes, then you need to search within them more for a bright green gem, which means try all versions of a tape to see what, if anything, changes. I forgot to mention that, for most of these sections, you are a distant viewer, clicking on things from afar; when you enter a tape, it’s more of a first-person perspective, with limited movement. Towards the end of the game, you’ll actually control someone with WASD and move around a limited area looking for key items.

Alas, there isn’t much story to go off here. After completing each factory section, you’re treated to a short dialogue sequence playing over a radio, with some words cutting off due to static. The conversations are between two unidentified men and tease the origins of these cassette tapes, implying their use as a means of recreation, as well as escape for those in need. Especially as the world outside these factories is crumbling away. Or something like that. Really, it wasn’t at all clear, but that’s okay. Because the Small Radios Big Televisions soundtrack, written and produced by the game’s developer Owen Deery, does an amazing and even better job than any words could depicting worlds within worlds and contemplating the manipulation of audio-visual data through its haunting, transformative synths.

Small Radios Big Television can most likely be completed in a single sitting, seeing as I put in a little more than two hours and saw credits roll, but I did that over several sittings, pausing after each completed factory session. To think, to ponder. To listen to the soundtrack on the side. Also, after you complete the game, you can go back to all the levels and find any missing tapes, and the game tracks which ones you have or don’t have, which is a feature I would kill to have in every single videogame ever going forward from this time and date.