Category Archives: impressions

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Dragon Fin Soup

dragon_fin_soup_screen_2_54229-570x320

Y’all know I love a good, strange-as-heck videogame title, and Dragon Fin Soup is a wonderful example of such a beauty. One, it contains the word dragon, so I’m already intrigued, but it also sounds more like a fancy, medieval recipe than a tactical RPG mixed with roguelike elements and procedurally generated worlds. It tells you nothing about the game, but entices you to check it out nonetheless, which is exactly what I did…many years ago. According to my save file, I played 21 minutes and 51 seconds total. Well, let’s revisit the abnormal critter once more now in 2019 before I get to the uninstalling part.

Dragon Fin Soup stars Red Robin, a charming, yet raging alcoholic bounty hunter who would rather get into a bar fight than deliver baked goods. Players must take up Robin’s blades and set out across Asura, a lushly colorful fantasy world that sits on the back of an enormous space turtle–um, was Terry Pratchett okay with this?–on a journey to discover the secrets of her bloody past. That’s the setup, and it’s pretty interesting; at least our protagonist isn’t an amnesiac for no reason whatsoever. I’m just not sure how much like a twisted version of Red Riding Hood she is supposed to be…

Okay, now I remember what my initial problem with Dragon Fin Soup was. For some reason, the entire game doesn’t fit on my small, desk TV monitor, with important UI being cut off in the four corners or hard to read entirely. Alas, there is no option within the game to correct this, and I don’t have this problem with any other game on my PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 2…so I’m not sure how to correct it. Grrr. It makes figuring out what is going on a bit difficult, especially returning to the game after so many years away from it. Not impossible, but just more work than I want to put into this thing.

Dragon Fin Soup reminds me a bit of Dungeons of Dredmor, which…was a game I didn’t understand at all during my first few attempts at it. Nowadays, I’m much more familiar with the roguelike genre, but that doesn’t mean I love every game that takes permadeath super seriously or identifying items essential for breathing. For every Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac, there are countless other iterations that take inspiration from the punishing genre and run with it, for better or for worse. I think it is all about feel, and something feels off in Dragon Fin Soup; perhaps it is too much information at once or none at all. Speaking of that…

There’s no tutorial, though there is a dream sequence at the start that immediately throws you into combat. After that, you are left to your own devices, which for me, returning to this after years of being away, did nothing good for me. Dragon Fin Soup is a turn-based strategy game. Each move the player makes gives enemy units a chance to respond. Thankfully, it’s not as slow and laborious as it sounds. In fact, once you get a hang of the game’s rhythm and controls, combat can be fast-paced and frenetic. You’ll need to use a mix of magic, bombs, gunplay, and melee combat to take down your adversaries. I unfortunately didn’t get to see enough to keep me engaged and wanting to explore more or learn about Red Robin’s past.

Maybe in another life, Dragon Fin Soup. You still have a wonderfully odd title, and for that alone I give you all the kudos.

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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Toy Home

There was a time when Sony was really pushing the Sixaxis controller as the best way to play some of its big name games, such as Lair and Heavenly Sword. Well, Toy Home also uses it, forcing you to tilt left or right to steer your racing vehicle…or shake it violently to get your vehicle to flip over after a crash landing. I’m sure I looked a bit ridiculous doing all of this, but thankfully no one was around to watch me play. It’s gimmicky and not something I’d every really want to use, but alas…I had to.

The goal of Toy Home, which is a digital download only for the PlayStation 3 that came out in December 2007 and does not contain Trophies because it predates the inclusion of ’em, is to simply collect coins, discover hidden medals, and pass every checkpoint, earning 10 seconds for each checkpoint, before times runs out. You also win points by jumping, smashing, and flipping around. There are a total of eight racetracks in the game, all of them taking place in one of the rooms of the house and are filled with obstacles. It initially does feel like you are a kid’s bedroom like in Toy Story, with larger-than-life toys around you to smash into, and the bouncy music really makes you feel like a kid just goofing around with your toys.

There’s a single player mode, along with a multiplayer mode, where up to eight players can battle against each other online, as well as leaderboards, where you can view high scores. Naturally, I didn’t bother trying to play online because I just know how it’s going to go; I can only imagine how empty and lonely that digital realm is for a…twelve-year-old game.

I don’t have much more to say about Toy Home. It’s not a complicated game. It is what it is, a driving collectathon, and that’s fine. The only part I wasn’t enamored with was the control scheme, but I probably could get over it in time. Still, my goal with this project is to play what I can and see if the games hook me hard or are only interesting enough for an hour or so of my gaming time. I don’t see myself devoting much more of my life to Toy Home, sorry to say to all those at SCE and Game Republic.

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.

All I can say about Auf Abwegen is nein, danke

This might sound super obvious, but jumping is essential when it comes to platforming, and Auf Abwegen does not nail the feeling of good, reliable jumping at all. And without being able to jump well and with precision, there is nothing I could do to get away from the pack of bloodhounds chasing me, which is a shame because, for a free thing on Steam, this seemed to have promise from the start. Well, from a narrative perspective, that is. Oh well, you can’t win them all, and that’s something I’m slowly coming to terms with. Not everything can be completed or seen through to conclusion.

Auf Abwegen, which I believe translates from German to “gone astray” or “on the wrong path,” has you controlling a red fox in its natural habitat. This seems to be some kind of VR simulation, played by people up in outer space, with the implication that Earth is no more, and this is one of the ways they can experience what life used to be like on the forgotten planet. It is a one-man project from user Kindman, but there is nothing kind about the threats and frustration you’ll experience in each scenario you come across, whether it is simply learning how to go under tree roots or running so quick that you can’t see what is up ahead.

Evidently, there are three levels to master, but I think the one where the bloodhounds chase you is only the second one. Or it could be the last challenge, but I don’t really know since I couldn’t get past it after 40-plus attempts. Let me describe what you do in parts one and two. It opens with a tutorial section, where you learn how to move the fox; it can jump, crawl under roots, and run. You are then tasked with finding food for your family, and it is up to you to both figure out how and what you want to hunt. I got a mouse, a bird, and an egg, I think, which worked out, but getting these things was no easy task. For instance, there is a section where you are leaping from lily pads to logs to rocks in a small pond. Again, the jumping is so loose and finicky that landing on these tiny platforms is seemingly random. Chasing the mouse requires you to run it down–not sure how this thing made it across the water–and again, running fast and jumping here isn’t ideal.

However, after delivering the food to your wife and cubs–do foxes have cubs?–you enter the chase sequence, and this is where the madness begins. The fox can run fast, so fast that you can’t see what is coming up next. However, you have to keep moving or else. It might be a hedgehog you have to jump over or a gap in the ground, and you have to use lightning-fast reflexes to overcome these obstacles because the bloodhounds are coming, and if they touch you once, you lose and must start all over, bugle call and all. So it then becomes a game of memorization, but even memorizing what is next doesn’t help when the jumping is unreliable. Sure, some deaths I’ll blame on me, but most of them were me squeezing my controller in pure frustration because I had cleared a bunch of obstacles only to jump into a wooden log with branches instead of jumping over it because I didn’t press the button early enough. Ugh, no thanks.

I do dig the look of Auf Abwegen, from its science-heavy computer interface at the start to the hand-painted backgrounds of the forest, backed by a soft, melodic piano-driven soundtrack, minus that annoying bugle call signaling the bloodhounds that it is time to hunt. The cartoony parts, such as the fox and fish and bloodhounds, pop against the backgrounds nicely. There’s some decent voice-acting, though I think it is all in German, but there are subtitles to read, with only a couple of grammar mistakes throughout.

If y’all are feeling nice or masochistic enough to play Auf Abwegen, by all means, give it a shot for free on Steam. And let me know what happens after you get past the bloodhounds. I’m genuinely curious.

Resolve an ancient conflict on Wuppo’s quest for a new home

I have way too many games on Steam, and the good bulk of them I have no memory of how they got there. Some were probably freebies, and others cost money or were purchased during a sale. The easiest guess is that many of them came from one of the thousands of gaming bundles I’ve participated in, but the when and where escapes me each and every time I scroll down my list and pause on a name that just seems completely foreign to me. Today, we’re going to talk about Wuppo, a game I have no memory of buying, but I guess I did because…well, it is there, installed on my Steam library, and it looks like a really cute, colorful platformer.

After being kicked out of its apartment home for making another mess via an ice cream cone, one lonely Wum, which is a type of round, featureless creature native to this world, must travel far and wide to find a new place to live. From the metropolitan haven Popocity to the cavernous Bliekopolis, this Wum will discover magical places and encounter strange creatures along the way. Now, this Wum is no traditional hero and only by using its wit and charm, along with the help of a handful of items, can it truly succeed. That’s the main gist of the story, and it’s told through in-game dialogue that is both lively and quite fun to read, reminding me instantly of Pikuniku and Night in the Woods. You’ll also learn more lore by collecting film strips to watch.

Wuppo starts out easy enough, but don’t let its cute aesthetic and bouncy music fool you–the difficulty quickly amps up once you encounter your first boss battle. Fights require a decent amount of precision movement alongside the memorization of enemy patterns, and it doesn’t help that the jump button is on LT, which takes some getting used to, especially if you like double-jumping all the time, which, in this game, is a must. Your main attack consists of firing guns in a setup very similar to your average twin-stick shooter, so you use the stick to both determine the direction and angling of your firing. It takes a little time to get used to, plus you can switch out your gun for other weapons or items to hold, such as a bird that feeds you information at specific points.

Let’s get into the controls a bit more…because they are important. You have controls for basic movement, an action button that does whatever you need in a given context, and a dedicated button just for whistling, which is never necessary, but appreciated nonetheless. Your Wum’s health meter is justified as “happiness,” and you can increase it by making new friends, watching film strips, or eating your favorite food. The game is mostly an adventure platformer, and you’ll be making some large jumps or timed jumps to get to new places. There’s a map you can view, but I honestly didn’t find it satisfying or felt like it grounded me in this world. Maybe I’m just reading it wrong.

Wuppo is pretty hands off. It hardly ever guides you to the next place or quest, leaving it up to you to work out how to progress, which can result in some bits of frustration. Occasionally, there are moments where it is hard to make out specific buttons or levers to pull, as well as what the pathways are, making you feel stuck for no other reason than clarity. Items are placed in your inventory non-ceremoniously, and it’s up to you to figure out how to use them and where to use them, which some players, like Dark Souls fans, might like, but I don’t have time for all that.

Currently, as shown in the picture at the top of this post, I’m trying to find specific items for an altar, which is proving more difficult than I initially imagined. We’ll see if I ever complete this task or just move on to something else. I do like the look and vibe of Wuppo greatly, but it isn’t hooking me too hard besides its playful aesthetic, and there are plenty of other platformers to try out in my Steam/Twitch libraries.

There’s too much trivial chatter in Batman: Arkham City

Twice a month, I go to my local oncology center, sit in a fairly comfy reclining chair, get hooked up to a machine, and have poison, along with other substances, pumped into my body for three to four hours. It’s not exactly what I’d describe as fun, but it is what I have to do to continue living the life I want to live, a life with cancer. I’m never alone there, and sometimes the room is quiet, with everyone reading a book or listening to music or sleeping, as I’m wont to do, and other times it is just bursting with mindless chatter. Thank goodness for headphones. I tell this story because it actually relates greatly to Batman: Arkham City, believe it or not.

Can Batman just get one moment of peace to look out over Arkham City without having to hear some nearby conversation between Goon #1 and Goon #2? Please, it’s all I want. It seems you can’t go anywhere without picking up a stray conversation, and the majority of them are just fluff, nonsensical, pointless chatter to clog up your ear-holes. Someone somewhere is always talking, and it quickly becomes grating. Plus, there are occasional conversations you do need to pay attention to, such as when a political prisoner is being attacked or threatened, as it is a side quest activity, and parsing those out from the clutter can be tough. I don’t remember Batman: Arkham Asylum having this issue, but a lot of the game was spent in-doors, whereas here you are constantly gliding from rooftop to rooftop via a pretty open world brimming with enemies.

That said, I’ll now talk about the game proper. Written by veteran Batman writer Paul Dini with Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, Batman: Arkham City is inspired by the long-running comic book mythos. In the game’s main storyline, Batman is incarcerated in Arkham City, a huge new super-prison enclosing the decaying urban slums of the fictional Gotham City. He must uncover the secret behind the sinister scheme “Protocol 10,” orchestrated by the facility’s warden Hugo Strange, all while also dealing with a number of other big-name baddies, such as Mr. Freeze, The Penguin, and, of course, The Joker. It plays and feels a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum, but bigger and more explosive, with more things to do.

The same freely flowing combat from Batman: Arkham Asylum returns here and, while it can feel mashy at times, it does also feel purposeful. Batman can dynamically punch, kick, grapple, and Batarang through crowds of tough guys or, if you get the jump on a solo dude, take him down stealthily. Players gifted with superior button-pressing timing and the clarity of mind–in short, not at all me–can also use Batman’s fist and gadget tools to elevate these brawls into something much more. A violent dance, perhaps. Not all of Batman: Arkham City takes place outside; in locked rooms, Batman is a true predator, stalking enemies from the shadows and plucking them off one by one. I’m much better in these scenarios than I am trying to take on eight unarmed enemies and three guys with guns, all while trying to counter here, punch there, dodge this way, leap that way, etc.

At times, Batman: Arkham City has too many distractions, and I even found myself unable to figure out where to go next for the main mission, having veered off to answer payphone calls and attempt to collect some Riddler trophies. I say attempt because, for many of them, they are quite puzzling and seem like they require tools and abilities I’ve not yet unlocked. I do like that you can tag any Riddler trophy you see and it’ll add it to your map so you can return to it later, if that’s something you want to do. I highly doubt I’ll be going after all the collectibles in this one, despite that being a task I love doing in many other games. My goal is to just get through the story and see how things ultimately unfold for Mr. Wayne.

Currently, I’m in a large museum, trying to carefully make my way across a small pond of frozen ice to save some cops from The Penguin. If you are too reckless or take the wrong path, the ice will break, and a shark will eat Batman. Let me repeat that last part–a shark eats Batman. It’s probably the best thing I’ve seen so far in Batman: Arkham City.

Day is night, and night is day for Pokémon Moon

pokemon_moon_3ds_screenshots_2

I skipped out on Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, which, like my first experience with Pokémon HeartGold, are remakes of older generation games. That’s fine, really. I’m not against remakes, considering I loved Spyro the Dragon: Reignited Trilogy and have heard many good things about Capcom’s revisit to Resident Evil 2. However, after Pokémon Y, I wasn’t interested in going backwards, but rather forwards, with the mechanics and list of pocket monsters evolving greatly and equally alongside the somewhat limited handheld graphics. Enter Pokémon Moon. Yes, moon, not Pokémon Sun. I’m Irish, and I burn easily.

Alas, I picked up Pokémon Moon around the same time that I got Disney Magical World 2. As you know by now, I ended up putting way more hours into running around Castleton than I did the Alola region, and I have a hard time pulling carts in and out of my Nintendo 3DS, preferring to leave a solid one in until I’m mostly done with it. I mean, I did start Pokémon Moon the night I got it, picked Rowlet as my starter (sorry, Litten and Popplio), handled a few other tasks, and saw enough of the opening area to confirm that, yes, this is another pretty good Pokémon entry, and I’ll get to it eventually–and when I do it’ll be a fun time.

On that note, if you’ve played one Pokémon game, you’ll probably not be knocked over by the general story in this one. Pokémon Moon has you journeying across the beautiful islands of the Alola region, encountering newly discovered Pokémon, as well as Pokémon that have taken on a new Alolan style. Your job is to keep track of all the Pokémon you’ve seen and caught with your Rotom Pokédex, which is a living, breathing record-keeper. Around every corner, your battling skills will be tested by tough Trainers, and epic battles are in store for you against Team Skull, a nefarious group of ruffians attempting to steal Pokémon. You’ll also face off against the kahunas, the tough leaders of each island. If you’re strong enough, you may reach the Battle Tree, a place where the most accomplished Trainers go to battle each other.

Sounds about the usual affair, so then…what’s different this time around in Pokémon Moon? Well, some of the Pokémon you’ll train and battle with can learn powerful new Z-Moves—moves so strong they can be used only once in battle. There are Z-Moves for every different type, as well as exclusive Z-Moves for certain Pokémon, including Eevee and Pikachu. There’s also a new Pokémon Refresh feature that can keep your Pokémon in top shape after all that battling. Here, you’ll take care of your Pokémon by curing any status conditions like poisoning and paralysis, and the more affectionate your Pokémon become toward you, the better they’ll perform in battle. Lastly, Pokémon can also enjoy a new experience known as Poké Pelago, a place for them to visit when they’ve been placed in PC Boxes. This is a group of islands where your Pokémon can explore, play, and do other fun activities, growing stronger and obtaining items for you.

Actually, the biggest difference for Pokémon Moon and Pokémon Sun is the clock. Yup, time, time, time. In addition, the two games’ clocks are set 12 hours apart from each other, with Sun operating on the standard 3DS time, and Moon 12 hours ahead. This means, when I usually play the game at night, it is actually daylight in-game…and vice versa. This does affect some of the Pokémon you’ll encounter, and I find it rather neat nonetheless.

Perhaps my favorite new feature in Pokémon Moon is that after facing off against a Pokémon once, the game automatically charts whether a move will be effective or not. No longer do I need to look up what works against what online or keep tables labeled effective or super effective in my memory. This is fantastic both for newcomers and series loyalists. I don’t care if some see it as dumbing the game down; there’s still plenty of things to dig deep into, if that’s what people like about their Pokémon games, such as breeding or finding shiny versions.

I’m playing Pokémon Moon super slowly–I mean, it’s been a few years now–and that’s perfectly fine. Every now and then I get the itch to go in, wander around, catch some new pocket monsters, and level up my team. I also enjoy dressing up my avatar in new clothes. Maybe I’ll advance the story, and maybe I won’t, content to just noodle around with all the side content and extracurricular activities. I figure this will still hold me over until I get a Nintendo Switch and have to make the difficult decision between Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. Hmm. Really, it’s whatever one has Garbodor in it.

Wargroove brings brain-teasing tactics to consoles

Evidently, I am attracted to a very specific type of strategy game, and it is Wargroove. Which, as far as I can tell, is trying to be a modern take on the Advance Wars series, but I never got to play any of them, woe is me. In fact, the only strategy games I have any experience with are Fire Emblem: Awakening, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, among other smaller titles that I surely can’t remember at this moment. In short, I’ve never been a big fan of SRPGs or tactical games, but the genre is growing on me, especially if it is turn-based and not action-driven, like the Command & Conquer series. Give me time to think, people.

Anyways, Wargroove is a turn-based tactics video game in which players explore maps and battle foes, which is pretty typical stuff. Players can choose to take control of one of thirteen commanders, each with their own campaign, motivations, and personality, as well as special ability, referred to as a Groove. The game supports local and online multiplayer, including player versus player and cooperative play. There’s also a bunch of campaign-editing tools to allow players to create their own maps, which I promise here and now to never do though I’m not opposed to downloading some others have created. For me, it’s all about the main campaign.

Let’s dig in further. When war breaks out in the Kingdom of Cherrystone, the young Queen Mercia–who I occasionally misread as Merica–must flee her home. Pursued by her foes, which includes vampires, the only way to save her kingdom is to travel to new lands in search of allies. So far, I’ve only completing all the missions in Act 1 so…this is kind of all I really know story-wise at the moment. I’m sure things will get more dramatic later, but Wargroove does a great job with its storytelling, using in-game graphics to present bits of dialogue. I am always a fan of when a character grunts or just speaks one word from an entire sentence, and that’s how things go here, but you still get an idea about these people and what they sound like.

The first few missions do a good job of slowly easing you into Wargroove‘s groove. Your goal is generally to either defeat the opposing army’s commander or take their fortress. Capturing unallied buildings on the map or taking them from your opponent earns you money, which you can then spend on new units or health. The campaign introduces the units one after another and gives you hints as to their use, as well as how to use their respective critical hits. The first time you’re up against airborne fiends, for example, you also gain ballistas and mages, both excellent against that particular type of enemy. These missions give you time to get to know units and their strengths and weaknesses without being overbearing. Knowing what type of soldier fares best against what enemy is vitally crucial to keeping your troops standing.

So far, Wargroove’s weaknesses are a bit of a bummer and do detract from its general goodness. These include its occasional spike of crushing difficulty and tendency to drag on, turn after turn after turn. Positioning characters in the right spots for attacks and critical hits is already difficult enough, but Wargroove’s maps are relatively large, which means you can spend round after round simply traveling to meet the enemy or setting up your troops in the most optimal location possible. Maps often have chokepoints, such as bridges, that can be difficult to circumvent, quickly leading to your soldiers literally lining up to meet their maker. Flanking enemies is really important, as your damage to rival troops goes up greatly, but generating an army large enough to do so takes time, even if you load a bunch of them into wagons.

That all said, I am enjoying Wargroove and am excited to hop back into it after taking a bit of break once I got through Act 1’s missions. Seems like a big patch just hit for the game too, with many things being updated, such as adding mid-mission checkpoints and such. That’s cool. If it can make some of the more difficult missions easier and forgiving, I’m all for it, because it stinks to waste thirty minutes doing battle only to have your commander get wiped somewhat unfairly.

Lastly, I’m just going to leave this here, because it is all anyone needs to see to know that Wargroove is super special: