Category Archives: musings

2018 Game Review Haiku, #28 – Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan

Queen, mortal danger
These objects full of darkness
Use that nice otter

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

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#GameStruck4 – The Four Games That Define Me

I’m a sucker for memes, especially videogame ones, but alas, this #GameStruck4 one seems to be mega popular only on Twitter, a platform I’m not really active on anymore. So I’m doing it here instead and using it as an excuse to write about four very important games in my upbringing. As if I haven’t already touched upon these masterpieces in the past. Oh, and these are all from my SNES and PlayStation 1 days, which is really where gaming got its hooks into me–sorry, GameBoy–and I’m sure I could come up with four for every console generation I’ve gotten to experience up to this very day and date, but these are the ones that certainly shaped me early on.

Suikoden II

Ah, my sweet, sweet Suikoden II. You were everything I liked about the first Suikoden and then some, showing me that characters, that tiny bits of sprites and colors and text boxes, were just as believable and real and full of feelings as 3D polygonal dudes and dudettes. And Suikoden II has so many great characters. Here, let me name a few: Jowy, Nanami, Viktor, Flik, Bolgan, Luc, Clive, Luca Blight, and so on.

I replayed the game back in 2014 and wrote a bunch of thoughts along the way, many that I don’t need to rehash here. It’s a game that continues to live on inside me, and I often find myself comparing a lot of things to it. Or comparing it to everything. Either take works. Like, if a game lets you recruit party members, that’s cool and all, but six pales in comparison to 108 Stars of Destiny. No cooking minigame will ever beat Suikoden II‘s cooking minigame, and watching your castle grow and expand as your army increases makes going out and finding these new recruits worth it.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is probably the first game to ever make me cry. Not out of joy or love or the beauty of its colorful pixels, but frustration. I was young and struggled to beat a boss, and it affected me greatly. I remember physically tossing my SNES controller, something I’ve never done again. I’ve since grown from this time and now have backpacks full of patience, but this game, if anything, taught me to take things slow, to examine and prepare, to live in these environments and not rush to the next screen just for some shiny object or plot point. There’s a good number of secrets to discover in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and playing around with teleporting between the Light World and Dark World is one of my favorite time-killers, especially if it resulted in an extra Heart Piece or path to a new area.

Super Metroid

Super Metroid oozes atmosphere without saying a whole lot directly. You really have to pay attention to the environment to rise above it and defeat all the Space Pirate bosses. The two most long-lasting memories for me for Super Metroid, a game I’ve most definitely replayed a bunch and claim (back in 2011) has the most epic scene ever, are when you first get to the powerless and ghost-infested Wrecked Ship on Zebes and learning how to wall-jump from the blue, monkey-like Etecoons.

For the former, the eerie stillness of the area is immediately unnerving, and your constants, such as upgrading the map and restoring health and missiles via the respective stations, no longer work until you switch the power back on. There’s a ton of implied storytelling here, like piecing together that the ghosts are actually the deceased crew. For the latter, you need to watch the critters work their magic leaping wall to wall and then replicate it; otherwise, you aren’t going anywhere. It’s not easy, but when you successfully climb that tall column and hit the top, getting higher than the Etecoons, it feels beyond amazing. It’s also neat to know that you can do this move at any point in the game, from the very start. You just don’t know about it until until you run into them later.

Metal Gear Solid

I’m bummed to no longer have a physical copy of this game unlike the three listed above, especially when you consider how essential the retail box is to a specific part in the story. Still, when I bought the Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection 1987 – 2012 for the PlayStation 3, it came with digital download codes for Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Sold: VR Missions. Both of which I played through relatively recently when I was on a sojourn to see this series through from start to finish; my progress came to a complete and grinding halt during Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, which I did not find all that interesting or captivating, and I should probably just skip it entirely and move on to Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

Anyways, Metal Gear Solid taught me that games can be larger than life, that they can take their time telling whatever story they want, no matter how inane or far-fetched or action-cool it was. That your surroundings and actions matter, that you can go about a mission in multiple ways, whether it be by sneaking past unaware soldiers, sniping them from far back, or a mixture of both plans. It was certainly the first stealth game I ever played, which planted a pacifism seed in me that, to this day, no matter the game, has me always trying to accomplish tasks nonviolently, with as few casualties as possible.

What are the four games that define you? Tell me about ’em below in the comments or link to your very own hot take on the #GameStruck4 meme.

To escape Subject 13, Franklin Fargo must defeat Minesweeper

I purchased Subject 13 recently during Xbox’s Spring Sale for a couple of reasons: 1) it was cheap, coming it at a mighty low $2.80 2) it was billed as a traditional point-and click adventure game and 3) the graphics, from the few screenshots I saw, made it look pretty and mysterious and something akin to Myst, wherein there’s an island and puzzles to solve. I finished it off the other night feeling frustrated and dissatisfied, especially as I stubbornly felt the need to see it through, and I would not recommend it to anyone if, like me, the above reasons seem initially intriguing.

Subject 13 comes to us from French video game designer Paul Cuisset, though I’ll be honest and did not immediately recognize his name or work. Shame on me, as a fellow Paul. Evidently, he was the lead designer of Delphine Software International and the creator of Flashback, which is listed in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling French game of all time. That’s cool and all, but I’ve never played it and was way more jazzed to learn that he had a hand in making 1994’s mega-hit Shaq Fu, of which one day I’ll tell a story about. Still, the man has clearly been in the business for a while, and there have been some ups and downs; one of the more recent ups was Subject 13‘s successful Kickstarter back in 2014, which helped bring the game to phones, PC, and consoles.

Right, let’s get to it. Subject 13 opens up rather dramatically with a man named Franklin Fargo–no, really, that’s his first name and last name put together–attempting to off himself by driving his car into a river. However, as he begins to drown beneath the water, something happens and he is magically transported into an abandoned research facility. Here, a strange, disembodied robotic voice encourages him to use his special noggin to solve puzzles and make his way out of the compound. All righty then. Oh, and the robotic voice also refers Franklin as Subject 13 and refuses to answer many questions so right away you know something is fishy. It’s a decent bit of science fiction storytelling though it’s both predictable and under-delivered, with most of the details tucked away in hidden audio logs.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward stuff for adventure games, with Franklin exploring a small area or number of areas, picking up commonplace items, examining them up close, and using them either individually or combining them with others to solve puzzles, the majority of which are based around logic. Don’t be surprised to find yourself dealing with combination locks and slide puzzles and doing a bit of math on the side. It’s not The Witness, but few games are. I truly didn’t mind the puzzles, even if they never felt like they were natural in the world and clearly stuck out as something to do to slow progress, but a couple were extremely obtuse and resulted in me looking up solutions online to keep my momentum going.

Oh, and let me touch upon the final section of the game. Spoilers incoming…even though I kind of dropped a big one in this blog post’s title. After all your exploring and puzzle solving and chasing after holographic women, the only way out for Franklin Fargo…is through a game of Minesweeper. Now, it doesn’t immediately look like Minesweeper because of, y’know, copyright issues, but it’s the same idea nonetheless. And honestly, I’m not too bummed about this, because I enjoy a round or two or three of Minesweeper, but it shouldn’t be used as a final, climactic showdown. Don’t think too hard about the fact that this ancient device is guarding itself via a firewall based on Minesweeper. Also, there’s an Achievement tied to beating this part in under twenty, but the clunky look and nature of the beast means you need to play it slowly or start over again, and it’s the only Achievement I didn’t get for the game…so boo-hoo to that.

Here’s the hard truth–Subject 13 lacks polish and modern, friendly mechanics. It wasn’t designed to have them, but it needs them. I understand that this wants to call back to an era of gaming where adventuring was a little more imperceptive and up to the player to truly figure out, but some of that was left behind for a reason, to make the experience more inviting. For instance, moving the main character around is absolutely terrible, with Franklin strutting forward like a goalless gorilla, unable to make it up some steps or around a corner unless he approaches them from a very specific angle. A more traditional point-and-click interface would have worked better, especially when you often have to walk from one side of the screen to another, and it takes just long enough to have me reaching for me phone to check my email or the weather for tomorrow. Some items are extremely well hidden and, with no internal monologue from Franklin, I never even knew I was supposed to be looking for a bucket. Lastly, while the UI for your inventory is neat-looking, it never made it easy to pick up an item and compare it to another or, if you selected the wrong one, deselect it and try again; I felt like I was always fighting against the system.

I’m not all angry ogre, so here’s what I liked about Subject 13. The soundtrack is subtle and New Age-y, relies on futuristic synth-heavy tracks, but also enough soft sounds to lull you into a moody yet pleasantly relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t get in the way of exploring and solving puzzles. For testimonies, the game’s audio log collectibles, you can always see how many you have found in the chapter percentage-wise, as well as total, which I appreciated as I wanted to get them all in one go. Lastly, instead of “continue” the game uses “carry on” in its menu options, and that is so adorable I’m over here making large cat eyes and nodding enthusiastically.

I bought another game alongside Subject 13 during this sale, namely Anoxemia, and though it is not exactly the same type of game, I’m hoping I enjoy it much more than this, whenever it is that I get around to playing it. See, I’m not always good at immediately jumping into my purchases, though I did on this one and am unhappy. Or maybe I need to give Flashback a good swing–the original, not the 2013 remake version.

SUPERHOT’s time only moves forward with the player

We’re a few months into 2018, or twenty-great-teen as the kids are callin’ it, and I’m finally cool enough to play SUPERHOT. Y’know, that mega indie hit from…well, it originated as an entry in the 2013 7 Day FPS Challenge, but was a full release on consoles and PC in 2016. Strangely, right now, the game is everywhere you look–it was a freebie for March’s Gaming with Gold on the Xbox One, which is how I acquired it, it was a freebie last month for Twitch Prime’s new Free Games with Prime program, and it’s currently one of the games bundled in Humble Indie Bundle 19. My lordy-loo. I guess there is just no avoiding it at this point. After all, SUPERHOT only moves when you do.

Okay, some setup, of which I will absolutely nail down the mechanics of this game, but not its narrative. SUPERHOT is an independent first-person shooter developed and published by the appropriately named SUPERHOT Team. The game mostly follows traditional first-person shooter mechanics, with you trying to take out enemies shooting bullets at you. The twist to all this is that time within the game only progresses when the player moves. Remember when Neo in The Matrix used bullet time to his advantage? It’s like that, but always. This often creates unique opportunities for the player to assess their situation and respond appropriately, turning each gunfight into one massive, slow-crawling puzzle wherein you’ll dodge a bullet, punch a dude, grab his gun out of the air, and shoot him in the face with it before a second goes by.

Now SUPERHOT‘s story…exists on several metanarrative levels. First, the player plays a fictionalized version of themselves sitting in front of a computer receiving DOS prompts, getting a message from their friend who offers them a supposedly leaked copy of a new game called superhot.exe, claiming that the only way to access it is with a crack. Second, launching the game immediately thrusts the player into a series of seemingly unconnected puzzle-combat rooms via different points of view, all based around killing hostile red dudes via the cool time slowdown method, after which the game glitches out and disconnects. After this crash, the player’s friend sends an updated version of the .exe file, which is apparently a new version of the game that fixes the “glitches,” and you go further down the rabbit hole, doing as the large, blocky text on-screen says because…that’s what a good videogame player does. Look, it’s something of a connective tissue, and that’s fine, but story is not at all the reason I’m playing SUPERHOT, nor what I will ultimately remember about it five years from now.

Visually, the developers got lucky. The game is presented in a minimalist art style, with enemies in ruby red and weapons in stark black, in contrast to the otherwise white and gray environment, which has the effect of everything popping before your eyes, especially those red bullet trails. I suspect this look was picked because it was quick and easy to implement during its days as a jam baby, but it really works great to boil SUPERHOT down to its essentials–an area, enemies, and all your tools to kill them quickly seen. When you shoot a red guy, he explodes into a bunch of polygons, like a window breaking, and it’s super satisfying to both see and hear. Once you successfully survive a level, the game replays all your actions like a mini action movie trailer, and you can save and edit the replay into GIFs and such, if that’s your thing (it’s not mine). Oh, and one can’t forget the classic bit of the booming “Super, hot!” voiceover that loops after you’ve obliterated every red dude in your way.

I enjoyed playing SUPERHOT; the playing of it was enjoyable. I didn’t really understand a lot of stuff around the edges or what story it was trying to tell, but that didn’t diminish the fun I had from slowly dodging an incoming bullet, throwing my empty pistol into the face of a red dude, catching the shotgun that they tossed upwards, and unleashing a spray of bullets in their direction, all within the blink of an eye. Every room was a puzzle, open to interpretation, and I played a few challenge levels and endless mode after the credits rolled, but it lacked something the frenetic, bouncy campaign had, nor did it do anything new. I’m glad I got to finally play SUPERHOT, and if you’ve not yet…well, it’s time to stop time, get yourself a copy, and start slowly making your way to the complete and total domination of red dudes.

Even more games to acquire in the year 2018

Earlier this year, I put together a post about several games coming out in 2018 that I’m super-duper interested in playing. As if I don’t already have a backlog of un-played games that could fill up the Grand Canyon twice, but whatever. New stuff is always more exciting. Well, of them all, a few have come out, and I’ve gotten to see one through to credits, namely Legendary Gary. I’m still going to be picking up State of Decay 2 for co-op reasons, and I’ll be curious to see how Red Dead Redemption 2 is received despite never playing the first one or really falling hard for the Grand Theft Auto games. I’m also curious to know how The Swords of Ditto runs on PC, since I do not have a PlayStation 4.

Still, it seems like the last couple of weeks have brought about even more announced games for 2018, many of which I want to get my grubby, button-pushing hands on. Because I am never not sated. Right, well, take a look at the following titles below, and let me know if you are also interested in any of these or if you are too busy still playing Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! to care.

No Man’s Sky

A lot of people were upset when No Man’s Sky came out and…maybe they had reasons to be. It over-promised, lacked communication, and potentially felt like a magician’s trick, if you went solely on its marketing. For me, this always sounded like a game I’d really enjoy, a laid-back take on exploring infinite universes, even before the numerous updates that went into it to flesh it out, content- and story-wise. The notion of exploring planets and casually documenting all life on them, both flora and fauna, sounds truly relaxing, real nice. So I’m super stoked this is coming to Xbox One, and this version will contain all the previous updates to the game, as well as the upcoming update dubbed “Next” at the time of the release.

Release date: summer 2018

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive AgE

This is both amazing and sad news to share with y’all, but Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is making its way to western shores after a long time of waiting and wondering. Yahoo and boo. Alas, not for the Nintendo 3DS, where I was hoping to play it and check out its two visual filters, one for retro pixel graphics and one for more modern 3D graphics. Oh well. At least it’ll hit the PC–a first for the franchise!–and I can see what the hubbub is all about, so long as my laptop can run it. Until then, I still have plenty of photos to take in Dragon Quest VIII.

Release date: September 4, 2018

LEGO The Incredibles

Mel and I are currently trying to wrap up LEGO Jurassic World, and it’s definitely one I’m not having a grand ol’ time playing. I mean, I didn’t like the 3DS version, but had hopes that the console versions would be fun. Alas, nope. I have some major issues with the map and fast traveling options, but that’s for another post. Coming out alongside the new movie, LEGO The Incredibles will cover both the first film and its sequel, and I think the superhero powers, as shown in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, make for a good, zany time. That said, Mr. Incredible looks a little jarring in LEGO form, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it, so long as he can bust up stuff effectively for studs.

Release date: June 15, 2018

Lamplight City

I’ve only played one title from Grundislav Games, namely A Golden Wake, but really dug its look, sound, and general vibe. Plus, it was a modern yet old-school point-and-click adventure game, which I truly cannot get enough of these days. The forthcoming Lamplight City from the same developer appears to be checking off all these characteristics as well. It’s a detective adventure set in an alternate steampunk-ish “Victorian” past. Inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, you’ll never find yourself stuck in a dead-end situation because if the case becomes unsolvable, you can simply move on to the next one, and the story will adapt based on your choices. Neat-o.

Wait a minute. Upon further research, I also played Ben Chandler: Paranormal Investigator – In Search of the Sweets Tin. Shame on me for forgetting that gem. At some point, I really should check out all them Ben Jordan romps.

Release date: sometime 2018

Red Faction: Guerrilla Re-Mars-tered

What a beautifully dumb pun. I smile every time I read it.

Red Faction: Guerrilla is a game I think about going back to often, but the truth is that my Xbox 360 now is kind of unplayable. I mean, no, it still works, but I have to switch a bunch of cords in and out and it’s a small hassle, big enough to keep me at bay. Thankfully, a lot of stuff is backwards compatible on the Xbox One, and, if not, there’s usually a good chance it has or is getting a remake/remaster. Which brings us to Red Faction: Guerilla Re-Mars-Tered. It’s the same-old third-person shooter about revolution on a Martian mining colony from 2009 you remember, but with cleaner textures, 4K support, and all that. I’m excited to go back and be the ultimate nuisance, driving through buildings, blowing up bridges, demolishing houses, and starting trouble at every turn. I never did get all of its collectibles.

Release date: end of June 2018

Palm Island

I’d love to have a solo card/board game to travel with, especially this summer as my family heads to Walt Disney World, and Palm Island seems like it could be perfect for a little gaming on the go or, more specifically, while stuck in an airplane and internally freaking about being so high up in the sky in a massive heap of metal and mouthbreathers. Using a deck-transforming mechanic, players must use just 17 cards over 8 rounds to shape their island and overcome its unique challenges. You do this by storing up resources to pay for upgrades and upgrade buildings to access new abilities, with each decision changing your village from round to round. At the end of 8 rounds, you calculate your victory points to see if you came out a winner. The Kickstarter for Palm Island was successful, which I did not back, and so now we wait.

Release date: estimated delivery in June 2018

I hilariously keep forgetting Team Kirby Clash Deluxe’s name

At first, I thought it was called Kirby Battle Royale–y’know, the game where 100 Kirbys jump out of a plane, land on an island, and must fight each other to death. Then I thought it was Kirby Star Allies, which is some new thing full of big reveals coming out real soon for the Nintendo Switch. Lastly, I thought it was Kirby’s Blowout Blast…but nope, none of those are right. I mean, yes, they exist and are all technically games starring the titular pink vacuum-beast, but the game I am playing and constantly forgetting the name of is Team Kirby Clash Deluxe. Oy vey. Look, there have been a lot of similar-sounding and looking Kirby-based games coming out of Nintendo these last few years, and it is difficult to keep them all separate.

Evidently, to make things even more complicated and layered, Team Kirby Clash Deluxe is a spin-off of a mini-game from 2016’s Kirby: Planet Robobot, available as a free-to-start digital down on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. It’s a game entirely made up of boss fights from previous Kirby-starring games, with all your favorite cute-as-heck baddies showing up, like Waddle Dee, Meta Knight, and King Dedede. RPG elements like leveling up, class types, and unlocking new weapons and armor sets are the key to making your Kirby super strong. You can take on the fights somewhat alone, with three computer-controlled Kirbys–should it be Kirbies?–or you can team up online with other real-life players; I’ve not tried the latter, and I’m doing just fine without human help, though I guess then I’m missing the whole point of this experience. For what it’s worth, I’ve never done much online multiplaying on my Nintendo 3DS, save for Animal Crossing: New Leaf and a few matches of ScareScraper slash Thrill Tower from Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. I like flying solo.

Now, the fighting in Team Kirby Clash Deluxe is not the most technical or satisfying combat system this side of the moon. It’s mashy and chaotic and that’s never really been the focus of Kirby games, of which my favorites are Kirby’s Dream Land 3 and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Speaking of the latter, I seemingly still have my case and instruction manual for it, but no longer the disc. Boo to that. Also, not-favorites in the franchise include Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Anyways, you can freely switch your Kirby between four different classes, which are as follows:

  • Sword Hero
  • Beam Mage
  • Dr. Healmore
  • Hammer Lord

These classes are basically locked-in versions of when Kirby would copy an enemy’s ability for his own nefarious purposes in a traditional game. Y’know, but sucking them into his mouth and swallowing them whole. Class-wise, they are easy to figure out, with Sword Hero being a general warrior type, Beam Mage being a ranged wizard, Dr. Healmore is your cleric, and Hammer Lord is most definitely a tank. I’m putting all my chips, and therefore Gem Apples and currency fragments, into Beam Mage, buying weapon and armor sets as they unlock because trying to spread out my spending on multiple classes, without using real money–more on that in a bit–is a fool’s errand. I really like the Beam Mage’s Time Stop ability and the fact that I can keep my distance from bosses and let my AI-driven team get in close for me. As fights progress, the boss will drop stone tablets, and if you collect all four of them you can perform a supermove that deals massive damage; other than that, the strategies are mash attacks and heal and dodge when necessary and obvious.

Let’s now talk about the free-to-play stuff. Team Kirby Clash Deluxe‘s freemium currency is Gem Apples, and there’s a tree in your main hub area that will give you five Gem Apples every 12 hours. Naturally, you can also buy Gem Apples for real cash money through the nearby shop or upgrade the tree itself for better harvests, and I wish I could tell you what the best deal is, but I honestly haven’t even looked at the prices. Each boss fight requires a certain amount of Vigor to take on, which recharges over time–it’s basically your standard energy system to restrict you from playing too much at once. You can instantly refill the meter by eating a Gem Apple or leveling up. Gem Apples are also used to unlock new boss fights and, along with additional currency requirements, acquire new weapons and armor. At first, everything only takes a few Gem Apples to do, but as you progress the amounts required will increase, insisting you pay real money for more; thankfully, I’m as patient as an anaconda hunting its prey and don’t mind checking in every 12 hours or so for my free Gem Apples, stockpiling them until I can unlock the next whatever.

So, similar to my approach with Pokémon Shuffle, Disney Magic Kingdoms, and other free-to-play games, I’m okay taking it slow in Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, so long as I get to see a majority of its stuff. Some of these armor sets look adorable on the ol’ pink sphere. I doubt I’ll get my Kirby up to level 50–he’s currently sitting rotund at level 12–but I’ll keep checking in on this until the Gem Apple requirements truly become too steep to climb.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #20 – Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment

Hot day for packing
Fans on, boxes to fill up
Better start moving

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.