Category Archives: impressions

In Even the Ocean, an unassuming power plant technician rises up

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Even the Ocean has a lot to say. Sometimes the game says it out loud, other times it’s in the silence, the awkwardness, the looming dread. To be honest, it wasn’t everything I thought it would be, but in 2016, in this age of Internet spoilbreathers and big budget over-promoting with trailers every odd week, that’s a welcomed surprised. For starters, I entered Even the Ocean‘s beautiful if troubled world without having touched Anodyne, the previous independent videogame from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka, also known as Analgesic Productions. Seems like I’ll need to work backwards for now.

The easy, one-two punch is that Even the Ocean is a heavy on the narrative, puzzle platformer about balance, about balancing. Not just the light and dark energies that hold the world together and keep Aliph, our unassuming power plant technician of a protagonist, alive, but also the balance of work and free time, of not overdoing it, of dreams and demands. Basically, Whiteforge City goes from good to bad after a routine maintenance trip to a local power plant takes a wrong turn, leaving Aliph in a position to show what she can do. Mainly, maneuvering safely through dangerous puzzles and solving those light-bouncing conundrums we’re all familiar with after things like Beyond Good and Evil and every Professor Layton title. With Mayor Biggs backing her, she’ll travel the continent, moving from power plant to plant and elsewhere, to save the city she now calls home from total destruction.

Gameplay is structurally straightforward, possibly on purpose, a mix of puzzles, platforming, and chatting. Mayor Biggs will assign a number of downed power plants to Aliph to investigate, and then you can pick which one she’ll tackle first. Each plant (or location) is more or less a puzzle maze, with learning how to navigate rooms blocking your progress. These places have their own theme and teach you, the player, something new about Aliph’s abilities, something vital. One area focuses hard on her maintaining the right balance of energy as she moves between energy-sapping blocks of color, another is all about timing jumps on moving platforms, and one will have you carrying items while avoiding heat-seeking enemies. I personally liked the puzzles involving using her shield the most. There are also non-platforming sections, like in Whiteforge City, which has you exploring different areas via menu selections and speaking with locals to learn more about the world and your place in it.

Let me explain more about the energy system since it is Even the Ocean‘s big draw. Aliph has a shield and bar of energy, represented at the bottom of the screen as chunks of blue and purple. The energy bar greatly affects her maximum running speed and jump height. When the energy slants one way too much, she’ll either jump higher and run slower or vice versa. Sometimes this is inevitable, and other times you’ll need to drop or increase to a certain amount for puzzle reasons. Discovering the when and where for this is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding, though a part of me had a hard time trying to constantly keep the bar sitting pretty at 50/50. If you go too far in one direction, the energy will consume Aliph, reloading you at the last checkpoint, of which, thankfully, there are many.

Even the Ocean is stylish as heck, both in its looks and sounds. The music is oftentimes soft, but moody, lingering behind every jump Aliph makes. It can get real pretty too, soothing, safe-sounding notes to provide comfort in dark times. I really liked a lot of the sound design too, from the noise the statue makes when saving your progress to Aliph pulling up her shield to even the simple pit-pit-pit of the dialogue boxes. The pixel art is…look, I love pixel art. I am never afraid to say pixel art is beautiful, is great, and Even the Ocean‘s art design is stellar. Commonplace locations, like a forest or beach, are enhanced with weird, unfamiliar flora. Many might see this whole thing as yet another 2D indie platformer with retro graphics, but it is more than that. The locations are unique and interesting, like Clearbreeze Island, home to a giant telepathic starfish. Also, every character portrait feels plucked from real life…though I have no way to prove that. Hmm, I wonder who Humus actually is.

Truth be told, not everything worked for me. I didn’t understand why there couldn’t be a single map or mini-map when traversing the overworld. Now, after exploring it fully, the world is not that big and it is impossible to get lost, but having to equip specific maps was a tad tedious to the point that I only relied on it for one puzzle-pertinent part. I also found the inclusion of an inventory misleading and unnecessary, as the number of items added to it over the adventure is slim, and it is as functional and as fun as reviewing your “key items” in any ol’ RPG. Y’know, the ones you can’t do anything with, but carry to the credits. Lastly, I was hoping to find more in the world, in the “dungeons”…some secrets or hidden doodads, but Even the Ocean isn’t about wasting time on inconsequential pick-ups to satisfy us collectible fanatics. At least you unlock some dev commentary buttons after completing the game to explore at your leisure.

At times, over my six hours with Even the Ocean, I was reminded strongly of other adventures, which shouldn’t be shocking. Everything is linked, in one way or another. As Aliph entered each new environment brimming with locked doors, unreachable floors, dangers, and offbeat characters, I thought of Knytt Underground. As Aliph jumped from wall to wall, shifting her energy balance to allow for extra speed, I thought of Super Meat Boy and Mega Man X. The game, at least on the normal playthrough setting, never becomes brutal or punishing, though a few puzzles did take a few tries until I learned the trick to making it through them alive, if leaning hard towards one color of energy. As Aliph took breaks after each plant to check in with Whiteforge City and her friend Yara, I thought of Persona 4 and schedules and the use of repetition. Of its story and conclusion, I couldn’t help but think of Shadow of the Colossus and The Last of Us, of our current political landscape and the hardships many face every day, of persevering against unlikely odds.

Here’s my suggestion: dip your toes into Even the Ocean. Wade in slowly, letting your skin become used to the temperature, to the ripples. When you are ready, comfortable enough, dive down. Submerge yourself. The flood is coming. Now it’s time to find out how well you can swim. Don’t worry–if the waves are too rough, too relentless, you can always play through it on Story Mode. In fact, I plan to do just that for my second go-around.

A review copy of the game was provided to me by Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka from Analgesic Productions LLC.

Learning about gross insects with Aniscience’s help

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As a young boy in a public school on the East Coast in southern New Jersey, I had my standard fill of edutainment games, such as The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. These were interactive experiences designed both to educate and entertain. Like, now I know that dysentery is a terrible thing for anyone to get, extremely detrimental to one’s colon and health, and that it will severely impact your chance of seeing the end of your covered wagon’s journey to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But enough about the highs and lows of 19th century pioneer life because I’m here to talk about bugs. Flowers, too. But mostly those creepy-crawlies that, from my point of view, exist solely to freak me out and slither into my open mouth as I sleep.

Aniscience is a fine piece of edutainment, performing both actions of entertaining and informing well enough, though I do wish there was a little more interaction from the player. Well, easier interaction, to be honest. To start, it’s still in development. You can basically play a demo of the first level, and there are promises of more areas to come. Ultimately, Aniscience is a cutesy, mouse-driven journey about discovering nature, its laws, and the principal species of plants and animals. Or, in the case of the demo level, all things that live in the dirt. Y’know, insects galore.

Here’s how one plays Aniscience. You control the tiny brown mouse, either with the arrows keys or, I assume, if on some kind of touch-based device, with your figure. This cinnamon-brown mouse by the way reminds artistically of the characters from Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I’m perfectly okay with. Anyways, by lightly dragging a magnifying glass over a selected object (animal or plant), you can get a page of facts on the screen. These are real, honest-to-science facts, too. I mean, look at all these common shrew details:

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Other than that, you can click (or tap) on the specific animal/plant in question to watch it animate slightly. That’s basically the experience, backed by a soft, friendly soundtrack of happy keyboard notes, as well as birds chirping. It’s inviting, simplistic, and visually pleasing. I still wish there was more interaction, like maybe comparing different bugs and flowers to one another or somehow modifying the scene, like adding in food or a predator and seeing how things change. Also, having to drag a magnifying glass over each and every thing you want to examine is tiresome. I get that the developers probably wanted a very straightforward control system, but I’d have preferred having the examine on one mouse click and the animation on another. It’s not a deal breaker.

Aniscience is a pretty fun way to learn about nature, even if some of the bugs are super gross. You are rewarded with exploring by learning about a new critter or flower, and while that might not sound immediately satisfying…it is. I wish you could collect these fact cards in some kind of journal, that way you could both have a goal of finding them all in one area and can easily pull them up later to view without having to go back to the specific thing in question and re-magnifying glass them. Again, not deal-breakers. I’m viewing this more from the “Is it fun as a game?” perspective, where I’m sure others coming to it just for education purposes aren’t even thinking about stuff like this. I mean, again, that mouse is pretty dang adorable.

Spyro 2’s guidebook is stuffed full of gems, talismans, and orbs

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Earlier this year, I put the original Spyro the Dragon to bed. This was a game that I had started playing in 2014 and really liked, but moved away from over the years, only returning to it in 2016 with the drive to see its credits roll. Shortly after, I started playing Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and vowed to not take the same length of time to beat it. And look, I remained true to my words, even if I maybe never said them out loud here, but whatever. That’s two purple dragon romps down for the count, with a third still waiting in the wings. Soon, Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Very soon.

Let’s see. After saving the world and many elderly dragons from Gnasty Gnorc in his last adventure, Spyro and his friend Sparx decide to take a vacation to the lovely, picturesque Dragon Shores. Unfortunately, while there, they are sucked into a magical vortex that takes them to a realm called Avalar. All three of Avalar’s worlds are in danger of falling under the power of a Napoleon-like dictator named Ripto. In order to save these worlds from destruction and tyranny, Spyro must travel to and fro, helping out who he can while also collecting a number of things: gems, talismans, and orbs. I emphasized the last one on purpose, with more to say later in this post.

For good and for bad, not a lot has changed since Spyro’s last outing. Which, in terms of narrative, wasn’t that long ago. When it comes to development, there was only about a year between the release of the first game and the second. Anyways, you’re still charging enemies, breathing fire, jumping, gliding, and collecting butterflies to power up Sparx and stay alive. A couple new moves have been added to the little dragon’s arsenal, such as being able to swim underwater, using ladders to climb higher up, and an overhead smash stomp that I think I only used once or twice for a story reason and never again. There are hub worlds, which contain gems and orbs to find, and then within these hubs are warp gates to individual levels that will hand out talismans as a reward for finishing its main through-line. Story progression is gated by a specific number of these things, so it is in your best interest to get as many as you can…as soon as you can.

Alas, I really hit a wall between the third world of Winter Tundra and the final boss fight against Ripto. I needed 40 orbs to move on and was only somewhere around 25 at the time. This meant I had to go back, multiple times, to levels I had already completed and find the extra challenges to do to earn an orb. Generally, these challenges are towards the end of each level, which means a lot of replaying, something I already do excessively in them numerous LEGO videogames. I found that some of the orb challenges rated five stars were easy peasy and others rated two or three stars to be impossible. Some of that has to do with controlling the camera or Spyro, as moving him with both speed and skill is not easily doable; I preferred the slower challenges, like herding cows into a fenced off area, instead of chasing after thieves or playing a lackluster minigame of hockey.

I hope I’m not seeing a pattern when it comes to these final boss fights. The one against Gnasty Gnorc was long, frustrating, and had the nasty sting of having you redo the entire thing if you messed up once. Yeah, yeah…gaming in this generation is spoiled by lots of checkpoints and saves and magical power-ups to get us through the tough parts, but it really felt like the main chunk of the game sat at a difficulty level of 3 and then the last fight was cranked up to 11…just because. Well, it’s all that again with the final stand against Ripto, which is broken into three sections. Two are on the ground, easy enough if you keep dodging and picking up sheep for health, and the last has Spyro flying above a pit of lava, dodging incoming homing missiles while also trying to dish out his own damage. It definitely took me more than five tries to put Ripto in his place.

Spoiler alert: there are no plans to collect the remainder of orbs (15 left) to open up whatever is hidden behind that sealed door at Dragon Shores. There will never be a plan. If anything, I hope to start Spyro: Year of the Dragon soon, though that may be a more likely candidate for 2017 under the assumption that there are even more things to collect in that one. Mmm. I’ll also freely admit that I’m now much more curious about how things went for Spyro on the PlayStation 2 when Insomniac Games handed the reigns over to another developer and moved on to the Ratchet & Clank series.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with my favorite code for Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, which is my favorite hidden code from every game ever, no matter what the genre – Big Head Mode! Pause the game, and then enter Up, Up, Up, Up, R1, R1, R1, R1, Circle. You are very welcome.

Final Fantasy IX: the sweetest joy and the wildest woe

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Well, here we are. It’s autumn 2016 and raining leaves everywhere, and I’ve now seen Final Fantasy IX to its conclusion. Well, in reality, that was a couple months back when it wasn’t as chilly in the morning and all shades of red, orange, and yellow because I’m slow to write these days.

I think it is officially the…third game in the ironically long-lasting series to get crossed off for the history books. The two others include Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XII. I have also watched–Maker, forgive me–Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within more than once, so perhaps that should count for something. Or maybe I need to really consider never mentioning that publicly ever again. Anyways, this has been a long-time coming, and if any of you reading this blog o’ mine are frequent visitors then you’ll know I’ve been…hmm, actively doesn’t really seem right to use…futilely trying to beat this game since about 2013. Or, if you consider when I actually got my PlayStation 1 copy, then more like the year 2000.

Final Fantasy IX is an RPG that has always managed to grip me with its first several hours of action and adventure and story-telling, and then lose me by the end of the second of four discs. I will continue to stick my flag in the ground and say that this epic adventure is too epic, and that the story should have concluded once Garnet was back in Alexandria, her mother, Queen Brahne, no longer a viable threat. Sure, sure, the whole Kuja side-plot would need some rewriting to make that work, but just have the two go down together and bring on the parades of peace and happiness and Vivi not feeling terrible about his existence. Everything that happens on discs three and four is insane, and I don’t mean crazy in a good. I mean characterized or caused by madness. Honestly, I tried to follow along in earnest, but once we got to the point where we learn that Zidane and Kuja are actually Genomes, sentient soulless beings constructed by Garland for the purpose of acting as hosts for Terran souls when two parallel universes merged…well, I gave up caring. There’s a really good chance I even got some of those details wrong, and I was using an online source.

Here’s the thing. Without its cast, Final Fantasy IX is just another adventure to save the world from destruction. From a single-minded villain. I’ll go out on a limb and say its three most pivotal characters are Zidane, Dagger, and Vivi. Steiner is one note, and that note is amusing and never sways too high or low, but not enough to be top tier. Despite not caring what was happening in the overall plot in the second half of this fever dream, I did care greatly about what was happening to each and with each of these characters, as well as many of the side, almost one-offs, such as Cid and Beatrice. The characters are quirky and troubled, all trying to better themselves or find their place in the world–something I can connect with. Also, those Active Time Events I loved so much? Yeah, they are nearly non-existent in the last two discs, which was a big bummer, as it is in those side snippets that you learn the most about the cast.

As it turns out, despite the number of hours I put into Final Fantasy IX, there are complete sections and quests that I didn’t even dip my toes into, for various reasons. Such as Chocobo Hot & Cold, a mini-game that is so lengthy and involved that it might as well be its own standalone title. Related to this is feeding Kupo Nuts to a Moogle couple and watching their family grow. Now, I did keep up with delivering mail for Mognet, but was unsuccessful in seeing it all the way through; evidently, you can eventually visit the headquarters and save the post office from fading into memory. Dang, that sounds pretty good. I also didn’t fight any of the Treno weapon shop monsters or participate in many games of Tetra Master, content to simply collect the cards, though I’d estimate I didn’t even hit 50% of them by the time credits rolled. There’s even more things I didn’t do, as my focus from disc three forward was on strengthening my team–always Zidane, Vivi, Steiner, and Dagger–and synthesizing good weapons and armor in their fight against Kuja’s evil minions.

Whew. Unsurprisingly, I suspect I have a lot more to say about Final Fantasy IX, but I’d rather wait for those thoughts and revelations to emerge naturally and not force them out through my fingertips. It’s a big game. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not just talking about mechanics and boss fights and grinding. Vivi’s “who/what am I?” story is handled with such coldness and confusion, and it gets me every time. I still love how perfect the “Dagger Tries” ATE is in Dali. That said, every love connection felt really forced, and that ending cinematic and triumphant reveal was a little too drawn out for my liking. Again, like when I went back to play Primal, I’ve discovered that there’s both good and bad to examine here; real quick, I’m not at all saying that Final Fantasy IX is anything like Primal. In fact, it’s far superior, but both of those games are ones that I played the opening hours over and over again, building them up in my brain and assuming that’s how the entire game went. Nope, nope.

I’m most certainly not ready to commit to another entry in the series at this point. In fact, the only other one I have in my grasp that hasn’t seen its credits roll is Final Fantasy VIII, and I’m missing one of the middle discs because I was young and dumb once and loaned it to a “friend” who ended up moving away with it, which really puts a nail in that quest’s coffin. I would certainly love to dive deeper and play one of the older titles; that NES Classic Edition coming out this holiday season comes packed with the original Final Fantasy, as well as 29 other retro titles. Hmm. Also, perhaps one day, far, far down the road of life, I’ll give Final Fantasy IX another swing since it is now available on Steam and has a tempting list of Achievements to pop.

Until then, I’ll just cast “Sleep” on myself and crawl under a tent as a Moogle softly sings me to safety, to slumber.

Feverishly swiping away at my phone to Make It Rain

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I am a patient man. Perhaps maybe the most patient, but that is a test that anyone claiming such a thing could easily fail. I mean, if someone sits next to me and continues to flick my nose once every three seconds for the rest of my given life, I don’t expect to last long. For the most part, when it comes to videogames, I don’t mind having to wait. Sometimes the waiting, whether it is for a certain upgrade or pivotal story-beat, can be kept to the shadows when grinding or side quests are involved, and other times, like with a lot of today’s mobile entries, such as Disney Magical Kingdoms or The Sims FreePlay, the waiting is the entire game itself.

Make It Rain: Love of Money didn’t start out being a waiter, but it eventually hit a point where progress was unobtainable except through the passing of time. I’ll tell you how I know for sure in just a bit, but I guess I’ll cover the game’s story and mechanics first. Story-wise, it’s a mix of the thoughtful, coming-of-age journey Kaitlin’s sister experiences in Gone Home and the multiple dimensions, always-a-lighthouse time-funkaroo from BioShock Infinite, with a dash of Jazzpunk‘s zany playfulness thrown in for good measure. Okay, no. Just kidding. There isn’t a lick of narrative here, just a means to get digitally rich. Perhaps you are an absent-minded app developer who accidentally created this money-making product and must now figure out the quickest way to make it big. Your adventure may vary.

The game’s theme revolves around money, greed, and corruption, and opens with a Biblical quote, every single time, to remind you of the evils of temptation and your place as a servant to a higher being:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

That aside, once you are playing Make It Rain, the greed takes over, and all you can do is earn money and spend money to help earn more money faster in the future so that you’ll have more money to spend on earning money. Money money money. You can do this in a few ways, with the main method being swiping the screen in the same fashion that one might swipe a wad of money from their hands if they wanted to “make it rain” on a stripper. It’s an amusing means to an end, even if it’s demeaning in nature. I often made it rain on my cats, for what it’s worth. Another way to earn money is by putting your hard-earned green stuff into things like insider trading, subprime mortgages, and the bribing of political figures. Doing this raises how much money you earn by swiping, how much you earn when not swiping or the game is off, and how much your bucket can hold before you need to empty it and start again. All of this has me wondering how much cash I’ve accrued in Fable II since last turning it on.

Make It Rain is the type of experience that can be never-ending. I decided to toss a flag and march towards it, with the end goal being to unlock every Achievement. By September 2015, I had all of them, save for three. One Achievement was for purchasing two bee-related services, of which I had one already, and the other cost a whole lot of money that seemed, given the game’s pacing, decades away. The second was for swiping 100,000 times, which I’m convinced is glitched. Lastly, the developers would love to reward you with a digital picture and 5 Gamerscore if you connected the app to your Facebook account. Well, zip ahead a whole year later to today, and I’ve crossed off two of those three and decided that “Erased Fingerprints,” the Achievement for swiping way too much, is never gonna happen.

I hope to never write about Make It Rain again–really, there’s not much more to say, and a part of me is still baffled that I played this and consider it something one plays–so let me tell you how the last year went, which was all about earning $123 KBB to purchase the Electronic Apiary. I first started out trying to both increase the size of my bucket so it could hold more cash, as well as boost how much I got per hour when not playing the game. I quickly became less interested in actively making money and preferred to let the app work its magic in the background. This proved glacier-like slow, with each increase being so minor that you never really felt you were making any ground, but so major that all your funds were depleted and you had to start from square one. I then decided to give up on trying to upgrade either and simply empty my bucket whenever it filled all the way up, which was probably every day and a half or two days. Granted, I often forgot to do this, which only prolonged the experience. This took, oh, about a year, and I’ll point you back to the very first sentence of this blog post.

It’s strange. In just the last few weeks or so, I’ve polished off a number of games that have been lingering in my backlog for a good, long while: Final Fantasy IX, Crimson Shroud, Spyro the Dragon, and now this. Also, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, a game I’ve been tapping away at its puzzles since 2014, is creeping close to the finish line. It’s like these things happen in large, social waves, and I have to wonder if some of the games I’m playing now won’t see their special haiku rewards for still some time. Again, I really don’t mind the wait. Occasionally, it’s not ideal, but sometimes it’s all you can do. In terms of Make It Rain, money doesn’t grow on trees overnight.

Doom’s demo proves one glorious, gory point

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This might come as a shock, but I first experienced Doom via its Super Nintendo Entertainment System port back in late 1995, at a neighbor’s house. I remember its red casing well, as well as my friend’s father being the sort of lawn fanatic that concerned me even at the virtuous age of twelve. This game and my copy of The Offspring’s “Smash” on cassette were items we hid whenever this man walked by his kid’s bedroom, but perhaps the topic of keeping things with parental warnings on them secret is best saved for another post.

Regardless, I am one hundred percent certain that this is not the version the developers over at id Software intended for people to play first. The SNES edition was published by Williams Entertainment and featured a custom engine programmed by Randy Linden. Naturally, this meant there were some stark differences between the PC and console versions, though I didn’t know about them back then, only years later upon reading about it via the Interwebz. One element that stands out is that, due to animation issues, there could be no enemies fighting other enemies, something that I found deeply amusing in the original first-person shooter where you fight demons from Hell.

Anyways, that’s not the Doom I am talking about for the rest of this post. That Doom is the new Doom–still just called plain ol’ Doom–from Bethesda and id Software and released back in May. I watched the Internet go all bug-eyed crazy over it and moved on with my life as, when it comes to shooters from Bethesda, I prefer the ones that let you slow down time and stuff your inventory full of coffee mugs. Well, to probably everyone’s surprise, the company kicked off E3 2016 by releasing a free demo of Doom‘s first level for all to taste, and here I am, some number of months later, ready to talk about it. Such is how my summers now go.

Let me give you some deep narrative setup so you understand why the ultra violent, ultra faceless character you are playing as is so invested in shooting demons from Hell into bloody bits with a supply of deadly firearms. As the lone DOOM Marine, it’s up to you to obliterate the relentless demon hordes invading the UAC facility on Mars. Mmm. Okay, there, now that’s done, and the guitar-ripping action can begin, and it does, oh so fast. I’m sure it is blindingly speedy on PC, but I was still charmed to see how quick and smooth everything moved on the Xbox One. There’s running, there’s gunning, there’s clambering, and there’s glory killing, all of which is happening simultaneously as a hard rock soundtrack plucked from some forgotten album collection in Satan’s attic pumps you onward.

Doom‘s demo is the entire first level of its single-player campaign, and it wastes no time getting into the thick of things. The DOOM Marine wakes up on a slab in some room of worship, grabs some armor and a gun, and begins blasting Possessed and Cacodemons in their faces. From there, it’s all forward momentum. You’ll push ahead and kill everything in your way, eventually ending up in arena-esque areas where you will have to keep moving to keep breathing. Performing a glory kill–a cinematic take-down you can activate after damaging an enemy enough–will provide you with some health pickups, so there’s more to do here than simply destroy all evil things. I also liked combo-ing one glory kill to another, feeling like a true powerhouse. You can also find collectibles in the environment, as well as take key cards off dead dudes that turned out to not be true powerhouses.

If anything, this demo worked as intended. It gave me a taste of how new Doom plays and feels without restricting the player or holding their hand through the entire experience. That first level is the first level. There’s also no strange Nintendo-like restrictions that say you can only play the demo X number of times or within a specific amount of time. I liked what I played, but I’m not ready to commit just yet, with too much still in my backlog to get through, but at least I know that when I get to this, I’ll have a bloody good time. I promise not to play this Doom‘s SNES port either…unless the rumors of cartridges making a return to the NX prove true.

Sadly, Crimson Shroud’s too difficult to grok and master

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At long last, after years of grinding, following along with a spoiler-heavy walkthrough, then switching to a spoiler-free walkthrough, and grinding some more to defeat the final boss, I rolled a critical hit on Crimson Shroud. It is a complicated victory, one that I basically had to force myself to see because I am my father’s son and do not like to waste things, especially things I’ve bought with hard-earned digital cash, without experiencing them fully–or, to this point, mostly fully–but I am glad to have the large, 1,965 blocks-big application removed from my Nintendo 3DS. For many reasons, which I’ll get into later.

Allow me, one more time, to tell the tale of Crimson Shroud, as best as I can remember it because, for me, the last third of my progress on this game has been nothing but turn-based battle against goblins, one after the other. There was a short scene before the finally boss fight that was probably supposed to be revealing and satisfactory, but I had lost the narrative thread long before then for it to matter. Anyways, you control a party of three people as they make their way through the palace of Rahab. Giauque is a money-driven mercenary hired to retrieve the Crimson Shroud, the game’s titular McGuffin. He is joined by Frea, a Qish-descended mage, and Lippi, a stellar archer despite only having one eye. You might as well forget their names and know them by their classes: Tank, Healer, and Range.

It’s perhaps telling that I’ve actually never played any of Crimson Shroud‘s writer and director Yasumi Matsuno’s work, namely Ogre Battle 64, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story. After Crimson Shroud, I’m not sure if I would or will like them. The systems in this one really do sound great, on paper, such as creating combos through similar spells or rolling to clear away some accuracy-reducing fog, but I found their implementation confusing and clunky. For instance, you want to find gear you like and then grind out for more of those same items, feeding them into the one you have equipped so it can grow stronger. Fine, fine. I’m all about feeding. However, finding those same items is–excuse me for the saying–a roll of the dice, because the loot is random, and the fights take a very long time to get through, even when you seemingly have the upper hand. The way stats are shown is also difficult to decipher, and I eventually gave up trying to compare weapons and armor and stuck with what seemed okay, leveling it up as much as possible.

Crimson Shroud has been described as a bite-sized RPG. Perhaps it is too small. Not in scale, but in screen. All the combat action takes place on the top screen of the Nintendo 3DS, with menu selection and dice rolling on the bottom, where touching matters. Still, cramming all the fight details and characters in just the one screen above with a lot of text on top made it extremely difficult to follow who was doing what and the turn order. I often simply waited until the enemy finished attacking to see who was next in line for commands and went from there. I also never really understood why, if you killed all the enemies before they got a turn, the fight would be over, but if you didn’t then replacement goons would show up, making the whole ordeal last even longer.

Yes, the combat is strategic, but it is also immensely slow, as well as occasionally random. There’s also an unseen element of luck–obviously not just when rolling dice to use spells–that gives off the feeling that you are never truly in control of things. By the end of it all, I still did not have a strong grasp on what weapons and skills and spells worked against what type of enemy, or how new spells and skills were getting added to each character despite there being no XP won after each fight. Instead, you pick through a list of loot to take back to your inventory, but are limited in what you can take by some number cap.

After taking down the final boss and watching the credits do their thing, I was prompted to start everything all over again in New Game+. Curious, I tried to look up if anything greatly changed on a second playthrough, and enemies seemed tougher. No thanks. Anyways, I really do hope this is the last time I have to search for a usable screenshot of Crimson Shroud that can be manipulated to meet Grinding Down‘s strict standards because it is slim pickings out there, if you ask me.

With Crimson Shroud removed, I was finally able to download updates for Pokémon Shuffle, Nintendo Badge Arcade, and Mii Plaza, as well as the freemium Pokémon Picross puzzler, so there’s a plus in all of this. I even have room to spare for more stuff. See you never again, big, blocky game that, I guess, in the end, I really didn’t like all that much. I’ll think of you the next time I roll some dice.