Category Archives: impressions

How to train Spyro the Dragon to conquer frustrating platforming controls

gd final impressions spyro 1 gnasty_gnorc_level

I quit Twitter in October 2014 and haven’t regretted it…all that much. To tell the truth, for the years I had it, I never used it for any great means. Sure, there was the occasional self-promotion, the randomness of writing down whatever weird thoughts popped up in my head, the handful of subtweets and then quick deletion of said subtweets, and the liking of others’ better constructed, more engaging updates. More often, I stayed quiet, observing everyone else. However, I occasionally had my moments, and this is one that I still like to this day, posted a few years ago while watching some speedrunners destroying games for Summer Games Done Quick:

Well, almost two years later, I’ve beaten Spyro the Dragon, finishing at a 71% completion rate. That’s fine, really. I have no interest in going after the full 100%, which would require finding the remainder of gems, dragons, and eggs. Though it does look like you get access to some special room/level. Eh, I’ll just look it up on YouTube later. Remember when there was a time that you couldn’t do such a thing? Yeah, me too. Okay, okay. Let’s get on with this post. I know you are foaming at the mouth to read my thoughts about a small purple dragon that tries hard to be mighty, but is diminished by outside technological elements. The camera, people. I’m referencing the atrocious camera, as well as the less-than-trustworthy controls.

First, a plot summary despite probably covering most of this in my last post on Spyro the Dragon. This not-so-nice fellow Gnasty Gnorc–not sure if that’s a cross between a gnome and an orc or an entirely separate, standalone race–has gone and turned all the dragons of the realm into stone statues. For reasons, I guess. Well, almost all of them. Somehow, teeny tiny purple-scaled Spyro made it through the transformation wave unscathed and is now everyone’s only hope. He’ll travel through six worlds, freeing as many dragons as possible while also collecting gems, which are hidden in enemies, chests, and even across the map, eventually taking down Gnasty Gnorc in the final level.

Our titular hero has a decent array of moves for a PlayStation 1 mascot-driven platformer. He can breath fire, charge, float, and even do a barrel roll on the ground. The problem is that, coupled with the unfriendly camera, doing any of those moves while moving fast is a recipe for disaster and death. I found the easiest way to move forward was in chunks: enter an area, spin the camera round to see everything there, and then tip-toe over to the gems or enemy to take care of business. This worked mostly fine until you got to areas where you needed to run down a ramp and gain speed or do some light platforming. Unfortunately, jumping Spyro from one area to another is not as easy as it sounds: Spyro’s jump is both floaty and floaty, meaning you can hold the jump button after pressing it to float for a bit. However, letting go doesn’t simply stop the float in mid-air, so you really need to aim your jumps specifically and accurately. The camera will be your toughest enemy in this endeavor.

While I found a lot of the maneuvering in Spyro the Dragon frustrating, I didn’t outright hate the game. In fact, I loved collecting the gems and dragons and checking the list in each hub to see what I was missing. I know, what a shock. Paul enjoyed collecting things in a game that does a good job of having things to collect and lets you know what you still have left to collect.

Anyways, despite all my progress, I nearly walked away from the Spyro the Dragon when I got to the final fight against Gnasty Gnorc. I stopped counting after ten attempts to take him down. First, you have to complete the whole thing with no mistakes, as the boss fight is made up of three sections and there are no checkpoints. The first section is easy, chasing down two enemies that are carrying keys, and I eventually got so good at this part that I contemplated a career in speedrunning Spyro the Dragon. The second part isn’t too tough, with Spyro using a shortcut to catch up to Gnasty Gnorc and damage him. Lastly, and you can see this in the screenshot above, you have to platform across lava, landing on thin slivers of platforms that are slowly retracting into the wall. It’s not terribly long, but you’ll remember that I mentioned moving fast and moving with precision are not friends in this game. One false step or lack of speed, and you have to do everything all over again.

Truthfully, my mascot-driven platforming journeys are only just starting. Yes, it’s 2016. It’s never too late to dive back into the industry’s history. I bought this digital copy of Spyro the Dragon during a crazy good PSN sale back in April 2014, as well as some related titles. Next up are Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Then maybe Gex: Enter the Gecko. Maybe. I also grabbed a bunch of Crash Bandicoot games though I’m less interested in those as Crash Team Racing is still my favorite game starring the horribly misshapen Crash Bandicoot. That probably says something.

War is about repeatedly killing a man for an Achievement

valiant hearts healing hero gd post

I watched Karl bleed out more than a dozen times before finally saving his life. It is by far not my proudest accomplishment to date as a grown man that plays and enjoys a wide variety of videogames, but it is one that has stuck with me since popping this Achievement in Valiant Hearts: The Great War:

valiant hearts healing hero achievement icon
Healing Hero:
Save Karl for the third time without making any mistakes (60G)

You’re welcome. Also: I’m sorry.

In Chapter 4-5: Saint Mihiel, you’ll be playing as Anna at Emile’s farm. She discovers a badly hurt Karl and immediately goes into nurse mode, which is represented as a…rhythmic quick time event. Not sure how else to describe it. I imagine it’s a bit like playing Guitar Hero, but instead of all the button prompts falling from the top of the screen to the bottom, you are working left to right, along a path emulating something like a heart rate monitor. The desired button presses start out simple, but quickly escalate in variety and amount as you get further into healing Karl’s wounds.

Here’s the rub. The Achievement’s description is not crystal clear, and you have to make it through all three of the healing QTEs without making a mistake for it to work. If you mess up on one of them, your best option is to let Karl bleed out–in other words, purposely miss the button presses until it fails. Thankfully, you don’t have to go back and redo all three instances of the QTE, just the one you goofed. I ended up having to kill Karl a bunch on the third and final QTE, which is naturally the most difficult of the trio. You also do all this to a glorious soundtrack of a child screaming and Karl’s failing heartbeat. Over and over. Yup, it’s brutal for all parties involved.

Fast forward several months from abusing poor, weakened Karl, and I’ve also gone back and found all 100 collectibles in Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Yes, a hundred pieces of actual history, such as urine-soaked rags, periscopes for use in trench fights, and numerous hand-written letters home from soldiers. It turns out that I hadn’t missed that many during my initial playthrough, but in my silly and sometimes too dramatic mind, the act of going back and finding these hidden items seemed like a real arduous task. It was not. I grabbed everything I was missing in a few hours over the holiday weekend, and it was nice to see that the game autosaves the moment you find a collectible, which meant I didn’t have to finish each and every level I dropped into…as that might’ve been too much.

With that, there’s nothing left in Valiant Hearts: The Great War for me to do. That’s fine. I need to begin clearing up storage room on my Xbox One. Yes, already. I do hope to see more unique, small titles like this from Ubisoft. It’s a somber adventure, quite different from a lot of the company’s other output, but the industry needs more unique takes on tough subjects. This could have easily been a quickly forgotten third-person action game or, worse, a lackluster first-person shooter that did what it could with the war’s weapons and tactics (hi, Battlefield 1!). Thankfully, we got something more memorable.

The Temple of No holds a map that sees all things that ever have been or will be (but in map form)

gd final impressions the temple of no

The Temple of No is the first Twine game I’ve ever played. How do I know that, other than being me and knowing everything I do except for the hours when I’m asleep and dreaming about drowning in an ocean of spicy tuna sushi rolls? Well, for starters, I had to look up the definition of Twine before beginning the game. Evidently, when it comes to videogames, it means this: Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories. Basically, HTML-driven code that’s perfect for choose-your-own-adventure models, so long as it is inside a browser. I think you can pick your browser.

And that’s sort of what The Temple of No is, except it is more interested in breaking the fourth wall and ensuring you know that you are not the protagonist of the game than sticking to a structured narrative. The story is based on choice, and so you can either be a man, woman, or frog in search of a “map that sees all things that ever have been or will be (but in map form).” Yeah, y’know. Like the Marauder’s Map, but turned up to eleven. This amusing little jaunt is written by The Stanley Parable’s William Pugh and features gorgeous illustration work by Dominik Johann. Crows Crows Crows, the studio behind the equally free and interesting Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, are also behind The Temple of No.

Despite its understandably short length, I only went through The Temple of No once. Sure, sure, I’m probably missing out on a ton of jokes and maybe even more bits of delicious, storybook-esque artwork, but when a game is driven by choice–in this case, what words I click on and in what order–I can’t help but see these decisions as firm and final. I followed the man of the story as he worked his way through the jungle and into the temple in search of the map. In my mind, I can’t simply undo that history to see what would have gone differently with the frog character despite being a huge fan of Chrono Trigger‘s Frog design. Psst: if you played through as the woman or frog, tell me a bit about their stories in the comments below. Okay, thanks, bye.

The writing is good and amusingly smart in places, though I did spot a few grammatical errors. Nothing major, just a missing period or word that was lowercased that probably should be capped. Since the game is heavy on text, it is important that the writing be strong, captivating. I found the clicking of words and timing of audio cues to be enjoyable, and there’s one bit where a man begins talking to himself…for a very long time. I eventually cut him off, but I do wonder just how long it goes on for. Regardless, that’s some solid dedication for a joke, but that’s what makes The Temple of No special. There’s great care behind it.

I guess I’ll have to keep my eyes open for future Twine games, as well as whatever comes next from Crows Crows Crows. I really do dig their aesthetic and versatility.

Fending off an alien invasion as the POTUS in Saints Row IV

saints row 4 gd early impressions

Saints Row: The Third was a game I expected to severely dislike, but really enjoyed and even found myself going back to long after completing it to wrap up all its challenges and Achievements, as well simply goof around in. That said, I felt like I had my fill and so I didn’t immediately jump on Saints Row IV when it fell from outer space back in August 2013. I held out, using my limited and sporadic superpower of seeing the future, knowing that Microsoft was going to put up a digital copy of it for free for Gold members in April 2016. Strangely, I started playing it and Sunset Overdrive almost simultaneously, but found a simulated Steelport much more fun and enjoyable to explore.

Shortly after the final events of Saints Row: The Third, The Boss and some of his pals–I played that game as a male character, in case you forgot–are called upon to assist MI-6 agent Asha Odekar in infiltrating a Middle Eastern compound. This is to assassinate former STAG leader Cyrus Temple and prevent a nuclear missile strike against Washington D.C. You know, action movie stuff. The Boss manages to kill Cyrus with ease, but is unable to stop the launch of a nuclear missile. Taking matters into his own hands, he climbs aboard the missile and disarms it in the sky, earning America’s unwavering adoration to the point of being elected the President of the United States. Many years later, aliens show up, abduct all his friends, vaporize the planet, and keep The Boss trapped inside a simulation of Steelport. How rude.

Here’s the truth: Saints Row IV is basically Saints Row: The Third, but with superpowers. I’m totally okay with that. You no longer need to drive cars because you can leap over buildings in a single jump and then glide across districts. Don’t worry; you can still listen to the radio because it is now simply in your head. Mission icons that are on the opposite side of the map take just a minute or so to reach, thanks to super sprinting and the ability to climb up walls. Glitches are par for the course, though there were a few times where the game froze on me and I was unsure it was deliberate or not. It usually wasn’t. But yeah, it’s Saints Row: The Third, but speedier, punchier, and even more zany thanks to there being very few rules inside a simulated environment.

The plot is basically about The Boss gathering up his or her friends, leveling them up to be the best and most bad-ass companions possible, and then taking on Zinyak. I won’t lie and say a part of it didn’t remind me of Suikoden‘s progression towards a grand castle and army. A lot of the missions carry over from Saints Row: The Third though there are a few new ones, like using a UFO to destroy people and the environment for points, as well as high-speed races on foot through the city. A majority of the game’s main missions are constructed in a way to limit the amount of superhero powers you can use, and there’s even throwbacks to things like Metal Gear Solid and side-scrolling brawlers like Streets of Rage. Alas, both of these sections are relatively short and exist only to be jokey.

I’ve beaten Saints Row IV and am now in “clean up” mode, going after a handful of Achievements and whatever challenges seem possible. Those gold medals for races? Nope, not going to happen. Taunting 50 aliens? Eh, unlikely. However, I totally can get X number of kills with specific guns as that’s merely a matter of rinsing and repeating. Plus, there’s an Achievement for spending 40 hours in digital Steelport, and I’m probably only like 10 hours away from that benchmark. So, works in progress. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is grinding out the Dubstep Gun challenge, as dubstep is more like dumbstep. Thank you, thank you. No, please, no autographs.

Just recently, Volition announced its newest game, which is called Agents of M.A.Y.H.E.M. It’s an open world action adventure title set in the city of Seoul, starring a bunch of unique Super Agents from all over the world. I can’t help but see some striking similarities between it and Saints Row IV, though I think having a superhero-powered game on a newer, more powerful console is a wiser option these days. Saints Row IV definitely chugged and dropped to a very low framerate on the Xbox 360 when trying to do some super super sprinting or when there was a bunch of chaos happening thanks to black holes and explosions. Hopefully I’ll be done with digital Steelport by the time Seoul needs saving.

The future rewards those who press on in Read Only Memories

gd early impressions for read only memories rom

Well, the newest videogame bundle to make your eyes pop out of their sockets is the Humble Narrative Bundle, which, at its “pay whatever you want” tier, is handing out copies of Her Story, Cibele, and Read Only Memories. Yowza. I already have Broken Age, but the next tier contains that, plus 80 Days and Sorcery! Parts 1 and 2. I don’t really know what those last two ones are. Oh, and if you drop $10 or more, you’ll get Shadowrun: Hong Kong – Extended Edition. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound like a hypnotized ad man here, but this bundle is phenomenal, especially if you like games built more around stories than crazy upgrade mechanics. Y’know, like me.

Despite Her Story being on my list of games I just didn’t get to in 2015 yet really wanted to, I dove into Read Only Memories first. It seemed…well, to be honest, a smaller adventure, and perhaps something a little easier to digest in small chunks, as I wasn’t intending to play through anything on one single sitting last night despite there being a Steam Achievement called “Iron ROM” to do exactly that.

I’m going to do my best to describe the story or at least the setup, but like all things cyberpunk, there’s a lot of jargon and acronyms to wade through. Read Only Memories takes place in 2064, where most people have their very own personal robot, commonly known as a relationship organizational manager (ROM). These AI-driven bots act as interactive personal computers, but are limited to their programming. All that changes with Turing, a ROM made by the protagonist’s old friend Hayden, which is much more advanced. to the point of being sapient. Turing breaks into your apartment in the middle of the night after Hayden is kidnapped, requesting your help. Not because you are some superhero, but rather, according to Turing, the most statistically supported in getting the job done. Trust me, it did the math.

And that’s all I really know, having completed the prologue and am somewhat into chapter one. You’re tracking down clues as to the how and why Hayden disappeared, all while learning about Neo-San Francisco and its colorful cast of characters. It’s very much a retro point-and-click adventure title, with lots of things to interact with in a given scene, as well as plenty of throwaway text written for silly combinations, like using spoiled milk on a parked car. Normally, in a game like The Blackwell Legacy or A Golden Wake, you’d probably get a “I don’t think so” or “That’s not going to work” kind of comment, nothing else. Here, in Read Only Memories, you get a response, which only encourages me more to try everything on everything. I guess this previously thought smaller adventure is going to take me that much longer to finish. Sorry, I can’t not click on stuff that potentially holds fun flavor text.

Writing is key for Read Only Memories, much more prevalent than puzzle solving so far. Be prepared to read. Thankfully, the writing is strong and fun, if a little long in parts. Turing is a cute robot that can also be frightening when you realize it knows next to everything about you. Well, me. I made Turing address me as “Pauly” and use the pronouns of “him/his.” Also, I have an omnivore diet. It’s nice to see a game include such options and openness, as well as a future were LGBT characters face less discrimination, but then again…this is San Francisco. In actuality, this is a queer-inclusive videogame, and its developers are also involved with the GaymerX series of LGBT video gaming conventions.

I’m definitely interested in seeing this mystery unfold, as well as trying more drinks at the Stardust bar. Then I’ll move on to Her Story. Or maybe Cibele. Regardless, more story-driven adventures are in my future. Also, Read Only Memories has reminded me that I need to check back in on Matt Frith’s work and see if he’s done anything else to Among Thorns, which certainly shares some similarities with the darker side of technology.

To live in Final Fantasy IX is to give life meaning

gd update on ff9 end of disc three pandemonium

Bet you thought I gave up on Final Fantasy IX, seeing that the last time I spoke of it was back in January 2016 when I was stuck endlessly grinding my knees into the dirt against the Earth Guardian boss. I wouldn’t say I gave up, but rather stepped away for a bit. Well, several months. The idea of grinding with a two-party team made up solely of Zidane (cool) and Quina Quen (less cool) was really off-putting. I have good news though–I soldiered through it and was able to take down the Earth Guardian and get back to a much more substantial adventuring company of four. Speaking of four, I’ve also moved on to the last disc, which hopefully means that the end credits are in sight.

Look, I’ve had my copy of Final Fantasy IX for about half my life. Loyal readers should know that I’ve been trying to see this game to completion for a long while, and my track pattern used to be playing a good way into the second disc of the game and then abandoning the quest for…well, something else. I still believe that everything involving Kuja that happens after Dagger’s mother buys the farm feels like sequel material, but whatever. Here’s what I’m getting at. 2016 is the year that I, for the very first time, took disc four out of its place in the game’s jewel case and into my PlayStation 2. There are some light scratches on disc two from wear and tear, but disc four is as smooth and pristine as compact discs get. I found this to be somewhat surreal, but then again, if one was to take a look at my physical collection of games, there are a lot that I haven’t taken out of the case yet. Hmm.

Anyways, the areas after defeating the Earth Guardian weren’t difficult in terms of fights thanks to all that earlier grinding, but are story-heavy, and I’m not interested in spilling all the spoiler beans here. Also, not going to lie, a lot of what happened in Terra and Bran Bal went over my head. This is the part of Final Fantasy IX–and to some degree Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII–that I lose interest in. When lengthy conversations about life and death and souls and the universe and everything being connected take center stage. Please, no. Not again. I just want to watch the boy with the monkey tail fumble his way into telling a girl he loves her, as well as Vivi deal with self-identity.

I did end up referencing an online walkthrough as parts of Pandemonium are very maze-like, and there was even a frustrating stealth-driven puzzle section that I couldn’t get through despite all my obvious stealth skills. I continue to rely on a team makeup of Zidane (high damage and stealing), Dagger (summons and healing), Vivi (black magic and boosting Steiner), and Steiner (good damage, versatile abilities). The last part of disc three requires you to deal with three boss fights, one after the other, with no chance to save or heal up in between. I didn’t know this going in, but like I mentioned before…all that extra grinding from before paid off

Zidane and company are supposed to head to the Iifa Tree for the final confrontation with Kuja. Naturally, I’m not making a bee-line right there. I want to upgrade everyone’s gear and see if there are any side quests worth going after, as it sounds like there is really just one big dungeon left to get through. Now, a part of me suspects that I’m going to be using a mix and match of my party members in the fight to come, but some of them, such as Freya, Eiko, and Amarant, are severely under-leveled compared to others. I probably should devote some time to grinding them up. Sigh. I don’t want to do it, but I know this is probably better in the long run, and I don’t want to get all the way to the end and be unable to finish the fight, like how things went down in Final Fantasy VIII all them years ago.

I’ll be back after I complete Final Fantasy IX for the very first time. And no, I have no plans to start over now that the game has been ported to Steam with glorious, progress-rewarding Achievements. I’m too far in.

Drowning in random drops in Crimson Shroud’s Gerseym Waterway

crimson shroud waterway random drop gd bs

I have a problem. Well, more specifically, my Nintendo 3DS has a problem. See, there are updates to both Pokémon Shuffle and Nintendo Badge Arcade that I desperately want to install, but I can’t download them. I also have a code for Retro City Rampage: DX thanks to the latest Humble Friends of Nintendo Bundle that I can’t do anything with yet. Why? Well, of course, after many years of downloading things like games, DLC, themes, and StreetPass data, the system’s memory is just about full.

Upon reviewing everything that is installed, I noticed that Crimson Shroud is extremely large, coming in at 1,965 blocks. Yowza-bo-bowza. However, me being me, I can’t simply just delete this outright, and so I’ve gone back in to this magical land of figurines and digital dice, to figure out how to progress in hopes that I can complete the game and then feel justified in removing from my handheld. I did this with Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale, though there is a part of me that wants to revisit that game relatively soon down the road, especially with summer creeping on in.

See, last I played Crimson Shroud, which I sheepishly admit was back in January 2013, I had just defeated the Zombie Minotaur boss and was looking forward to exploring the area more. Unfortunately, to progress forward, you have to work through one of the most obscure puzzles I’ve come across in all my years gaming. Which is over twenty-five. Anyways, after dealing with the Zombie Minotaur, our trio of adventuring table-top figurines–Giauque, Lippi, and Frea–make their way to the Gerseym Waterway. There, you need to recall something Frea previously said:

“If you’re going to continue to search this way, you’ll need something to dispel the darkness–a gift. Anything with a gift like that would be an enemy to any mage. More of a curse than a gift, really.”

Right. Evidently, from that, you’re suppose to know that in order to move forward and not perpetually explore the limited number of spaces over and over and over again you need to obtain a single item called Obsidian Daphne. However, you won’t find this in a treasure chest or somewhere on the map. It needs to drop from a battle encounter, one specifically involving a Skeleton Mage. Your best bet for finding Skeleton Mages to battle against them in the Gerseym Waterway, but it’s not as simple as just getting into a battle, taking them down, and walking away with their sweet, puzzle-solving loot, and this is probably why I eventually put Crimson Shroud down despite loving rolling digital dice to regain MP.

Okay, every time you move away from and back to the space for the Gerseym Waterway, you get some muddled text and the chance to fight some monsters. A choice, really. Here’s the rub. There are four types of encounters you can…well, encounter. Not all of them contain Skeleton Mages as enemies, and the only way to know is to first take out an enemy and see what it gets replaced by. I think there’s a higher chance of a Skeleton Mage showing up if you destroy the Skeleton Archers first, but that’s just me guessing. Regardless, if you get the wrong encounter, you’re out of luck, but must still finish the fight, which takes several minutes as the enemies have a lot of HP and do not go down swiftly. Then you have to rinse and repeat your actions from before and pray to the skies above that you walked into the correct encounter. Remember, each of the four types of encounters have the same initial set of forces, so it’s all a crap-shoot from the get-go. For me, this took about an hour to do, and I almost missed grabbing the Obsidian Daphne at the end from the list of available loot. Eek.

Alas, that’s all the progress I’ve made so far in Crimson Shroud. Granted, it’s big, and hopefully there isn’t another section just like it up ahead, but I found the whole thing unnecessarily frustrating. I’m only on chapter two and already looking up online walkthroughs. Also, I’m beginning to remember another major issue I had with Crimson Shroud, and that comes down to screen real estate. With three party members and upwards of four enemies on the top screen, plus other information, it can be a bit hard to see what is even going on. I’m all about portable RPGs, but this one might make the case for being on one of those fancier Nintendo 3DS systems with the larger screens.

Oh, and once you find the Obsidian Daphne, it is used up immediately to further the story along. I didn’t even get a chance to hug and kiss it–after all that.