Category Archives: love

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #5 – Stray Whisker

I don’t think Stray Whisker would’ve been as effective if it wasn’t for the fact that, just three weeks ago, Tara and I got two cats. Their names are Timmy and Pixie, and they are having a good time exploring and owning all the space within Grimmauld Place. I love them except when they vomit, poop, or put their smelly butt in my face when I’m trying to sleep. Conversely, I think they now love us, and I can say with confidence that one cat in particular–Ser Timmy of the Toylands–would go on a journey to find us if we ever abandoned him alone in the urban wilderness.

It’s a quiet game about just that though. A woman in pink leaves her kitty cat in a nondescript section of outside and just walks away. Maybe she can’t afford the cat anymore or doesn’t have room in the house with a new baby on the way or the cat threw up on her favorite pair of heels. We don’t know. We just know that, as the cat, we must get back to her. We must nuzzle her leg and be the greatest purr machine that ever purred. We must.

Gameplay is simple as it’s all controlled by the arrow keys. Left and right make the cat go left and right, respectively, and up gets it to jump. You can jump on to ledges and knock down pots in typical cat-like ways You are always moving right, and eventually you meet other cats and a not-so-friendly dog, but eventually you’ll find your master’s home, with your master at home upstairs. I got stuck here initially as I thought I was supposed to lead all the other strays back to the house with me, but that wasn’t it. Just had to climb into the house through the top window. Love achieved!

One moment in particular reminded me of Limbo, where you reach a new screen, get the quickest glimpse of your sister/owner at the edge of the opposite side, and do everything you can to reach her. It’s small, but effective, and made the reunion of cat and owner all the more precious. Also, kudos to Andrew Sum for the solid animation work. That cat’s tail is pretty authentic.

Total play time is under five minutes, unless that red ball really becomes a distraction. Get to it, cat fans.

Samus as she’s always been in Metroid II: Return of Samus

I made decent attempts at the original Metroid, both back when it was out on the NES via a neighbor’s system and many moons later with it in my pocket on the Nintendo 3DS. I absolutely love and continue to play Super Metroid to this day. I even had a GameBoy for a good chunk of my childhood–and yet, I missed out on Metroid II: Return of Samus. I blame Mario, naturally, and…um, more Mario.

As evidence proves true here, I’ve had $6.22 sitting pretty in my 3DS for some time now. Nothing has been released on the eShop lately that’s looked even remotely enticing. Okay, okay. Freaky Forms: Your Creations, Alive!–despite its zany title–seems like a good time. I had way too much fun making silly and weak creatures in Spore Creatures. So, maybe one day. But not today, or tomorrow, or the day after that because I’ve already spent my eShop money. Yup, that’s right. I did some pre-Black Friday shopping and bought Metroid II: Return of Samus on Thanksgiving evening, after a busy day of family, talking, not talking, and too much foodstuffs. It was a nice little distraction-limned treat for myself, and I crawled into bed, turned the heated blanket on, and began hunting Metroids.

See, in Metroid II: Return of Samus, you’re tasked with taking out Metroids. Thirty-nine of them, in fact, which is a weird number, but whatever. Maybe forty would’ve tipped the scales or something. This has to do with the fact that Samus previously prevented the Space Pirates from using the Metroid race for their own evil purposes in the original Metroid. Now, to stop another attempt by the Space Pirates, Samus has been sent to the Metroid’s home planet of SR388 to eviscerate every last Metroid she finds. That ought to do it, right?

So far, I’ve taken down two Metroids. Pew, pew, blam. The game plays just like Metroid and Super Metroid except it’s a lot less open and more linear, with very little back-tracking. Sometimes that’s okay. Still, there’s no map, and taking damage from even the minor enemies can be devastating. One nice addition that definitely inspired the save+health-restoring stations in Super Metroid are the inclusion of save spots and energy/missile-recharging balls, as well as the ability to create restore points via the 3DS. And speaking of balls, I was pleasantly surprised to find Samus able to roll into a ball at the start of the game; the new spider-ball ability takes a bit to get used to though. My suggestion for those stuck: try everything until it clicks. Y’know, like I did.

Other oddness includes Samus being huge on the screen, a severe lack of background detail, and less than stellar music. That said, it’s more side-scrolling Metroid-blasting action, and that’s really all I need. With the ability to save frequently and recharge health much easier, I suspect I’ll finish Metroid II: Return of Samus far sooner than ever completing the original Metroid. Watch out, you thirty-seven Metroids left! I’M COMING FOR YOU.

Achievements of the Week – The Blessed Unbound Master Edition

It has arrived. The day is 11/11/11, and it is so much more than a Spinal Tap reference or a day to honor Veterans everywhere–it’s the day dragons awoke, the day I became a bearded man of import. Getting there wasn’t hard; Tara and I went to my local GameStop around 10ish, paid for my copies of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 (which I won’t be able to pick up until early next week) and then hung out on the store’s floor for a bit. We gamed on our DSes for a bit, but eventually had to line up outside in the cold as we drew nearer to midnight. Once the time chimed high, we were sent into the store in groups of six or seven, given our copies, and ushered out. The drive home seemed to take forever.

Got home, made my character–his name is Lohgahn, and he’s rocking some killer Wolverine-esque sideburns–and played until the intro tutorial part was completed. Then I saved my game as I was a truly sleepy bear, but woke up early this morning to continue bounding onwards. Have only taken a break to make/eat lunch and type up this Grinding Down blog post.

I’ve never waited for a midnight release of anything before, and it was a little interesting seeing what type of people came out for this event. Mostly young teenagers or kids just getting into college by the look of ’em. There was a group attempting to sing–to everyone’s horror–Queen. And then listening to them spew words about how dumb Batman ultimately is and what Final Fantasy is the best had me cringing a bit–is that what I sound like, just not out loud? Ugh…

Well, maybe more on that later. For now, here’s a rundown of this week’s Achievements. They all come from a single franchise.

From The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion…

Blah blah blah, who cares now. All hail Skyrim Achievements!

From The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim…


Unbound (10G): Complete “Unbound”


Blessed (10G): Select a Standing Stone blessing

These are probably the first two Achievements the majority of gamers will unlocked. The first one is basically tied to Skyrim‘s tutorial/intro level, and the second is obtainable by following your companion right down the main path a little ways. Can’t miss it. Unless, upon the game truly opening up for you, you headed left or right with such ferocity that you never found the easiest Standing Stone possible. Bummer to you.

The first few hours of my game have gone well, and I certainly didn’t see any crazy horse-on-carts antics, but knowing it’s a Bethesda game means it’s only a matter of time until the glitches start popping up. I did stumble upon one oddity. I was speaking to a woman inside her own home in Whiterun, and she was ready to give me a quest, but said it’d be better to talk to her in her home in case anyone was eavesdropping. We…uh, were in her home. Speaking to her a second time triggered the correct dialogue, but it was still pretty amusing.

And with that, I go back to make Lohgahn a better archer, a better necromancer, and a better thief. To arms!

30 Days of Gaming, #27 – Most epic scene ever

Hey, remember this meme? Me too. Actually, I did forget about it for a bit, seeing as the last update to it was way back in early August 2011. My bad. I can’t wait to count up how long it’s taken me to blog about 30 days’ worth of topics. Probably in the triple digits by now. Grinding Down has truly earned its namesake. To be honest, these last few topics are a bit of a struggle, all of them seemingly heavy-hitters in terms of constant forum topics and debates. Hopefully I can do them justice, but truthfully–I’m a little worried about my choices.

This is Super Metroid‘s second time appearing in the 30 Days of Gaming meme. The first was for the topic of “a game I’ve played more than five times,” which you can read about by clicking this clickity part.

To start, the last Metroid is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace. Until it’s not. Super Metroid begins by tilting this utopian idea on its side, with the Metroid larvae Samus brought to the Ceres Space Colony for researching being stolen by her nemesis Ridley. As she hurries back, she finds all the scientists dead. And she’ll be soon too if she doesn’t escape before the planet explodes. Narrowly missing the chance to become space particles, Samus then tracks Ridley to the planet Zebes. Ridley is the second-to-last boss, and despite his involvement in this whole mess, he’s not the show-stealer. No, not by a mile. Leave that honor to Mother Brain.

Good job, bounty hunter. You’ve made it to Tourian. This is Mother Brain’s base of operations, and it’s been relocated and rebuilt. Tread carefully. As you make your way closer to the end, you’ll pass former victims of the life-sucking Metroids; they crumble and turn to dust as Samus hurries past, a haunting image. But that’s only the beginning. You find Mother Brain, all encased and hooked up to too many tubes, just like in Metroid, and you blow her to bits, watching with glee as the machinery around her explodes and drops her to the floor, defeated, nothing more than a brain without a body. And then she gets up.

Clearly, it makes no sense how a pinkish lump of brainstuffs is able to grow out an entire dinosaur-like body like that, but it took me by surprise the first time nonetheless. I remember my own brain squirming in my skull, trying to find its own “grow a T-Rex body” switch and make sure it was set to OFF. Frightened, you launch every single rocket and super missile you have in your arsenal, relentless in your attack. And Samus is putting up quite a fight, dodging mouth-fire and bombs–but then Mother Brain hits her with an eye beam of stunning. Down she goes, forced to endure Mother Brain’s attacks as her health depletes block by block. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking to witness. Just before the end, when all seems hopeless and the final attack is being charged up, a Metroid swoops in to save Samus, sucking the life from Mother Brain. The Metroid then transfers her energy and powers to Samus, sacrificing herself in the cause. The remainder of the battle is a snap thanks to a kickass supercharged beam shot, and Mother Brain’s brain is disintegrating before you know it. No time to celebrate though; you have three minutes exactly to escape the planet before all is blown to bits.

What I love about this scene is how unexpected–and unpredicted–the Metroid’s saving swoop-in is. There’s no pausing, no jarring cutscene, no weird sounds like you’d get on a PlayStation when a FMV was readying to load; it’s all one fluid moment, filled with fluid movement, and the scene is nearly impossible to not watch. I remember thinking my controller was broken when I couldn’t get Samus to move after Mother Brain’s stun beam, and that sadness quickly turned to elation when I saw who had Samus’ back. One can only assume that this was the Metroid she had originally brought to the Ceres Space Colony.

This scene still resonates with me today, some fifteen-plus years later. That’s epic enough for me.

Samus Aran against the nefarious Space Pirates is no stroll through Zebeth

Yesterday, a day earlier than originally touted to be available, the 10 NES games from the 3DS Ambassador Program were ready for downloading. Let’s name ’em all: Wrecking Crew, NES Open Tournament Golf, Yoshi, Metroid, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Jr., Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, and The Legend of Zelda. Whew. That’s a lot of titles, and  several of them are straight up ancient and esteemed relics of the past. However, getting them onto one’s 3DS was a tricky, convoluted process.

I was excited to give each of them a try, especially since–and this is where I lose all street cred as any kind of gaming fanatic–I’ve never played the original Metroid or The Legend of Zelda (1 and 2). I know. That’s like…crazy talk, right? I also don’t drink milk; deal with it. Well, that’s just how life went; I was never into emulating games on my computer throughout college and post-college, and since I missed setting sail on the NES boat from actually back in the day, that was it. Strangely, I did devour the later installments of these games on the SNES, and consider them to be absolute favorites. Fast-forward many, many years, and here I am, stretched out on a guest room bed, face merely inches from the screen, playing these games for the very first time on a shiny, battery-drained 3DS.

To start, Metroid is freaking hard. You elevator down onto Zebeth (later installments change this to Zebes) with a meager 30 health and can quickly lose all of that if you don’t proceed carefully. There’s also no solid save system, just a wonky password thing that I’m too lazy to try. So, you grab the morph ball immediately to your left–also known as maru mari–and move ahead in baby steps. I managed to get my health up to about 70 before getting stuck near those tubes that release an endless swarm of flying enemies; coupled with the fact that Samus can’t shoot in a downwards direction and that her shots actually can only go so far…well, she didn’t last long. Had to restart from the beginning. I think I was relying too much on my Super Metroid skills here, not grasping that both games play very differently.

Quick deaths and total restarts. This is a reoccurring theme with these freebie NES games. They are tough cookies. Except NES Open Tournament Golf, which is more terrible than tough. I got a 9 on the very first hole, and that’s not cool. I know how to golf. I got a birdie and two pars this summer in real life golf, swinging a real club and hitting a real ball. I should be even stronger in the pixelated version. But yeah…

I’m definitely going to give Metroid another fair go, and might have to actually rely on this password-saving feature once I get deep enough. Imagine getting all the way to Tourian and dying and having to begin all over again? ::shudders:: Oh, and the music is still amazingly powerful, wriggling its way into my very soul. Love, love, love it.

Games Completed in 2011, #26 – Super Mario Land

I’m scrunched up in the backseat of a loaded minivan on my way to Walt Disney World. It’s hot and uncomfortable, unpredictably bumpy; something’s jabbing into my ankle, a part of the seatbelt clicker, and there’s only so many ways for a little boy to twist and turn to avoid burning exposed skin on lava-hot plastic. The cup holder next to me is full of lollipop sticks and wrappers, most red- or orange-flavored, their savory candy heads long devoured. My mom is driving, excitement keeping her foot pressed to the pedal; there might be others in the car, but most of this is fuzzy because what I really remember most is the GameBoy gripped tightly in my sweaty hands, my time-passing device. See, I’m piloting an airplane and submarine with amazing skill, murdering everything in my path, all for a princess, a taste of freedom. I’m nine or ten years old, and I’m playing Super Mario Land for the very first time.

The second time I’m playing Super Mario Land? It’s twenty years later, and everything is different. I’m married. I’m a corporate zombie. I’ve gone through high school and college and emerged with very few friends. I’ve tried a number of different, creative ventures, failing all more or less equally. I’ve become even more responsible than I ever believed possible, taking care of everything I want to take care of by myself, because I have to. I’m motherless and crazy sad and grasping for happy straws. But some things are the same. It’s still Mario, tiny, jumpy plumber extraordinaire, and it’s a game still being played on a handheld except I’m in a comfy armchair and not on my back, seatbelt clickers stabbing me with glee. The Nintendo 3DS does a decent job of emulating Super Mario Land, and I do welcome that with the new system, one can save their progress any time they want. Back in the day, if you wanted to complete Mario’s quest and rescue the princess, you had to do it in one large gulp. Which I believe I did do.

Like Super Marios Bros 2, Super Mario Landdoes not feature Bowser as a main villain. Instead, we have the alien Tatanga, who has gone ahead and captured Princess Daisy. To save her, Mario will have to travel across the Kingdoms of Sarasaland, which is basically four worlds with their own themes. And they are…drum roll…

  • Birabuto Kingdom – Desert theme, taking place inside pyramids and so on.
  • Muda Kingdom – Water-themed levels, including an underwater stage where Mario pilots a submarine.
  • Easton Kingdom – Easter Island-themed kingdom, with some underground levels.
  • Chai Kingdom – Asian-themed kingdom, with the final level taking place in the sky.

The game’s easy. I don’t remember it being quite so easy, but then again, as I’m sure many have discovered over time, a lot of levels from Super Mario Bros 3 felt really long and challenging once, and it was always sad to discover how actually short they are and easy to skip through. Even those dancing ninja enemies in Chai Kingdom (seriously, like chai tea?) that liked to hop about were easy to avoid or take down once their pattern became obvious; I remember them giving me a lot of grief as a young plumber. The only trouble I still had many years later were the bosses, piloting plane Mario or submarine Mario to safety.

Super Mario Land was a nice trip down Memory Lane. Unfortunately, it’s not a very long or challenging game, but at least I can always boot it up again and find myself back in that minivan, back on the road, back elsewhere.

Games Completed in 2011, #19 – LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game

“A LEGO pirate’s life for me” would’ve made for a good post title. I’m just saying…

Traveller’s Tales has pretty much cemented their LEGO videogame formula, and it seems like they like what they have in the blueprints and are probably not going to stray from it too much. This is both good and bad. The good comes from the aspect that, nine times out of ten, the formula is fun and silly and an OCD gamer’s utopia, with a billion different things to collect and tasks to complete. The bad is that if you’ve played one LEGO videogame, you’ve played every LEGO videogame, whether it came out today or five years back.

LEGO Pirates doesn’t do anything new or shiny, but it is probably the second most appropriate franchise for LEGO-izing next to Star Wars because the Pirates of the Caribbean films are fun, light-hearted, goofy, epic, and made up of a variety of wild locations. Plus, there’s the character of Jack Sparrow, a man that sways and sways your attention towards him immediately; I still can’t believe how perfectly they nailed him and his persona in LEGO form, right down to the drunken swagger. It truly is a sight to see.

LEGO Pirates covers the main cinematic trilogy, as well as the newest film On Stranger Tides. The cutscenes do a great job of moving the plot along humorously, but a lot of giggles were lost on the fourth movie as I didn’t really understand what was happening and why; these games certainly do benefit from a gamer already knowing the tales in and out, allowing the jokes to resonate more without losing out on crucial plot details. Here’s my guess for the fourth film: Jack Sparrow doesn’t want to grow old so he’s off to find the Fountain of Youth. Blackbeard feels the same way. However, for the Fountain to work, they need to make mermaids cry or something. Then some stupid wannabe pirate girl gets stabbed, and we need to use the Fountain to heal her. Oh, and Captain Barbossa has a peg leg now. Maybe a mermaid ate it. The end.

As mentioned before, the gameplay remains the same. You play through a level by yourself or with a co-op partner, smashing everything in your path to collect studs and open new places to explore. Some new tricks include using Jack’s magical compass to find hidden treasures or looking through a telescope and tracking a certain someone as they move around. Other than that, the game is much more puzzle-heavy than combat-heavy, and sometimes the puzzles can be a little difficult to solve, especially when one requires you to have destroyed X over there to complete. I was particularly stuck on the final level of On Stranger Tides, mad to discover that all I was missing was pushing in a block that did not look, um, pushable. Grrr.

Strangely, I noticed that Traveller’s Tales did not include a level editor this time around, which previously showed up in LEGO Harry Potter, Years 1-4 and LEGO Indiana Jones 2. That’s fine. I only tinkered with it a few times and just didn’t find it too much fun, especially since there was no way to share levels online or download new ones. No big loss. I still think drop-in, drop-out co-op via online would be marvelous, as the screen splitting up is often headache-inducing.

If you’re not a fan of the LEGO videogames, this one won’t certainly convince you. However, if you do love collecting studs and building items from broken LEGO bits and listening to dozens of characters mumble their way through a scene or riding giant crabs, then you’ll love LEGO Pirates. There’s plenty to do, to see, to be, and if you love carrots you’ll be especially pleased to know that there’s a lot of carrot humor. Whatever that means.

30 Days of Gaming, #21 – Game with the best story

Suikoden told the story and struggle of one Tir McDohl, a young boy growing up fast in a big world where politics and war meant ultimately the same thing. On top of dealing with betrayal and unfairness and the death of several close friends and all that jazz, young McDohl also learns early on that he’s destined to be the Tenkai Star, a prophesied hero fated to unite the 108 Stars of Destiny, bringing forth a new age of prosperity. Heavy stuff for just a lad.

Suikoden II, taking place three years after the events in Suikoden, is basically that plus more. More betrayal, more scheming, more large-scale battles, more heartbreak. The Kingdom of Highland is invading the City States of Jowston. The player controls Riou, a soldier of the Highland Army’s Unicorn Brigade. Together with his childhood friend Jowy Atreides, the two of them will get swept up in the seedy underside of the Dunan Unification War.

The greatest aspect of Suikoden II‘s yarn is its fair and rounded treatment of relationships. You truly believe that Riou and Jowy are great friends with a lot of history, and as the plot unravels it becomes clearer and clearer that the two will not see eye to eye on everything. Plus, each is given half of a True Rune, demanding that they work together for its full potential to be realized. Still, their separation is no surprise, but it’s still just as crushing. Jowy ends up working for Luca Blight, “the Mad Prince,” a villain as villainous as they get, and starts to move up in rank as Riou begins to build his own army and plans for stopping Highland. As things really get heated and the battle rages on, Jowy betrays Blight, revealing that he is trying to bring peace to the land, and that he never believed Riou could do it so he set out on his own to accomplish the task. There’s some bitterness there, as well as relief.

You also believe that Riou and his sister Nanami love each other, all the way to the end. Two other characters with a great relationship? Old-time favs Viktor and Flik, of course.

There’s multiple endings, too. Three, I believe. Here’s how my one and only playthrough concluded. At the end of Suikoden II, Riou returns to a spot where he promised Jowy they could meet up if they ever got separated. The climb back to where it all started is hollow and eerie, with not a single sound to be heard. The two converse and then you’re given a faux choice whether to duel or not. Regardless, you’ll have to fight it out with your once BFF. Once Jowy is weakened, you have another choice, this time a real one: take his half of the True Rune or don’t. I did, knowing full well this decision would kill him, but not sure what made me want his Rune half; maybe his betrayal and murder of Anabelle still stung deep down. After that, Jowy makes his peace, and it’s montage city until the credits roll.

The story is smart, sophisticated. The battle plans make sense, and Luca Blight, while being a little over-the-top, is exactly what one fears in a villain–intelligent and passionate. It was clearly crafted with care, and it’s a story I will care about myself for as long as I can.

30 Days of Gaming, #20 – Favorite genre

If you thought the answer to this topic was gonna be racing or cooking sims, well…you’ve clearly not been paying much attention to Grinding Down. I’m all about the roleplaying games, but it did take me some years to really get into the genre and stay there, as many JRPGs almost ruined me, as they have almost ruined others before me. Thankfully, standout titles like Suikoden, Suikoden II, and Final Fantasy VII literally blew my genitals, taking me from teenhood to manhood in a matter of dozens of hours, thanks to intricate plots, fantastic battle systems, soaring sounds, elegant pacing, light grinding, addictive gameplay, and endings that still resonate with me to this day. Plus, y’know, they let me play a role in their worlds.

I’ve always been a big reader, and much of the credit can go to my sister Bitsy who, from an early age, passed along books she had already read to me. Many of these turned out to be fantasy novels–works by Mercedes Lackey, Piers Anthony (oh my), and Anne McCaffrey–and it wasn’t too hard to leapfrog from them to more “adult” work, devouring things like The Belgariad series by David Eddings, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, and stuff by David Gemmell. Throw in the classics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the entire Discworld series, and well, I was hooked on stories.

And here comes along a genre of videogames that promises epic stories…and more! The majority of RPGs, more often than not, at least five or ten years ago,
were fantasy-themed. Sure, there’s the occasional sci fi-themed RPG, and many could argue that Final Fantasy VII is more space and metal frames than swords and dragons, but these videogames gave all their love to royalty and kingdoms and knights and dragons and magic spells and small-time villages trying to make ends meet before war destroyed everything everywhere. So I ate it up, even the bad meals like Beyond the Beyond and SaGa Frontier. It didn’t matter–I just wanted to be in a realized world, growing as a character, growing into a story.

Character customization is not as important to me as character crafting is. Whenever a new RPG begins and you’re given the chance to mold how your dude or dudette looks, I click around, raise their cheekbones, lighten or dark their skin, find a cool beard, and call it a day. I can easily see that hours upon hours can be spent noodling with dozens of options, but that’s not important to me. Once we’re in the game, spending skill points or focusing on this spell or deciding what kind of armor Mini Paul will wear are the bigger decisions.

While RPGs are my favorite genre, this also can be problematic. On average, a RPG can take around 30 to 40 hours to complete. However, having an addictive personality, I end up playing most RPGs for double that. See: 130 hours logged so far in Dragon Quest IX, over 100 hours for Fallout 3, eighty+ hours for Fallout: New Vegas, and so on. Playing more than one RPG at a time is like juggling balls of fiery acid with no gloves, and yet it’s something I simply can’t avoid.

Last year, I needed a break between some RPGs I was eating up, and so I picked up Mini Ninjas for the Xbox 360, thinking that an action title would be a good change of pace. I completed the game in under five hours. That’s it? I’ve played prologues in RPGs for longer than that (think Suikoden V, people), and I was a bit taken aback at how much quantity I look for in a game these days. Quantity over quality, especially when discussing bug-ridden games like the Fallout series. I don’t care how broken they are…there’s so much stuff to do to distract me from such bummers.

But yeah, RPGs. Love ’em. Always will so long as they continue on, which we all know they will. Can’t wait to see how big and massive Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is gonna be, as well as the multiple choice quiz that is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Sorry, upcoming Cooking Mama 4 for the 3DS…I DON’T GIVE TWO STEAMED CAULIFLOWERS ABOUT YOU.

Games Completed in 2011, #17 – Ratchet: Deadlocked

This isn’t the greatest analogy, but it’s all I got this early in the morning and with only one mediocre cup of coffee to keep my membranes ticking: Ratchet: Deadlocked is the adopted kid in Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank series. You can just tell that it’s not naturally comfortable around its older siblings, what with their love of platforming and exploring open planets. Instead, Deadlocked focuses on shooting and mission-based objectives, giving the game a quick sort of feel; there’s no wandering around, looking for hidden secrets; there’s just the more or less same-same missions on various planets, divided up by hilarious sports-like faux commentary and jesting cutscenes.

Initially, I was a little put off. The missions were so straightforward that I found myself annoyed that I couldn’t wander around as I pleased. Instead, I had to go from point A to point B, shooting all enemies, and so long as I lived to tell the story, that was good enough to make it to the next mission. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. These aren’t really missions…they’re events in a reality TV game show that…um, let me start at the beginning.

In Deadlocked, Ratchet and Clank get kidnapped by Gleeman Vox, the head-honcho behind Dreadzone, a reality TV game show that shares some links with our very own American Gladiators and The Running Man. In order to earn their freedom, Ratchet will have to fight his way to the top of the show’s leaderboards and prove himself worthy. Otherwise, his explosive collar will go ka-boomie. It’s not as interesting of a plot as previous titles, but it works well for the mission-based format, with each planet in Dreadzone acting as an arena filled with challenges to conquer. These range from tiered rounds of enemy swarms, to piloting a huge mech called the Landstalker or hovership, to fixing generators, to boss battles. With Clank on the sidelines, Ratchet gets some new help from two assistant fighter-bots; I can’t recall their names, but they make funny comments and can help with some objectives though I found myself repairing them more often than not.

When you’re not doing main story missions, you can complete challenges to earn more Dreadzone points and currency, which will help you buy upgrades and visit other locations. I ended up buying every mod and every weapon save for one: the Harbinger, which costs 2,000,000 bolts. Eep. I still love that weapons upgrade the more you use them, which is a nice way of getting me to try guns I’m not really interested in. Like the Holoshield Launcher. Still, my favorite weapon is the Miniturret Glove with just about any kind of crazy mod on it. Try it with the Morph mod for a laugh.

The cutscenes and voiceover work for the Ratchet and Clank series has always been top-notch, and there’s no exception here. The commentary during main story missions would usually get a snort out of me, and I still can’t get the way Dallas says Juuuuuanita out of my head. However, I was still surprised to hear Gleeman Vox curse–well, they bleeped it out, but the intent remained there–and it just goes to show how much darker this entry is than others. Kind of like how Jak II was drastically different than what came before it. Not necessary, if you asked me.

After you beat the game, the option for New Game+ opens up, which I both love and hate. I love it for the fact that I could play the game again with my weapons already kicking bolt butt and the chance to earn enough currency to buy the Harbinger, and I hate it for the fact that I don’t really have the time to play Ratchet: Deadlocked for a second time. Sorry, Insomniac. There’s too many other games demanding my love and praise (or wrath), but I had a great time on one playthrough, and that certainly counts for something.