Category Archives: musings

Do the Moonwhale’s bidding in Legend of the Skyfish

You can play a good chunk of Legend of the Skyfish for free before the walls go up and you have to drop a wee bit of cash-money to experience more. This happened to me specifically at Mamachi Swamp – Level 04, which felt like an odd place to stop players, but whatever. I feel like I grokked what this game was going for, enjoyed what I played and saw, and am totally okay moving on to something else. That’s not to say I don’t suggest you ignore this level-based puzzle adventure, just that you might get enough from its demo section. The full price on the PC is $7.99 or you can get a mobile version for half that.

Legend of the Skyfish stars a young hooded woman named Little Red Hook, as she journeys with the Moonwhale, the “warden of the seas,” to defeat the monstrous Skyfish. Not a lot of plot to go on, but it is serviceable. She’s armed with a rather unique item, a fishing pole–kind of like how Young in Anodyne wielded a broom instead of a sword. She uses her fishing pole both as a weapon and a grappling hook, and you can upgrade it as you progress through the levels. Of which, there are evidently 45 levels to see, plus giant boss fights. I already told you how far I got in the free-to-start version so I only saw one boss fight.

The levels in this The Legend of Zelda-lite romp are pretty similar from one to the next, slowly upping enemy counts and puzzles as you go further along. Little Red Hook explores screen after screen, flicking switches, and using her fishing rod to return sea horses and puffer-fish back to their ocean home. At the end of every level, she hacks a Skyfish totem to pieces, which I guess affects its plan of total domination. The fishing rod isn’t the only thing our leading lady can use. Little Red Hook’s hookshot tool can be used to snare solid objects, hurling her from island to island, grabbing stone blocks to weigh down ground switches, and yanking enemies across the screen to impale them on spikes, something that Mortal Kombat‘s Scorpion would highly approve of.

I played my little bit of Legend of the Skyfish on the PC, using mouse and keyboard for controls. It worked fine, especially because the game is quite linear, as well as friendly and pretty easy, though I generally prefer a controller for this type of adventuring. You can generally take everything slowly, and that includes engaging with enemies or moving from one island to another. It’s a gorgeous game to look at, from the way Little Red Hook moves through large patches of grass to the ripples in the water to the designs of enemies and the way they react to our leading lady’s presence. It’s quite stunning at times. Less can be said of the action, which is repetitive, with basic combat moves, but I found it relaxing and satisfying at times, and the rousing soundtrack helps keep you hooked, pun totally intended.

Perhaps Legend of the Skyfish will be included in some future Humble Bundle, where I can grab the full thing for a few dollars and see more of this beautiful world, maybe even give this supposedly dastardly Skyfish its just desserts. Time will tell, for sure.

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Jellybeans and commands galore in A Boy and His Blob

A Boy and His Blob has been a long time coming in my “need to play” part of my brain. Probably ever since I saw Giant Bomb‘s Quick Look of the game almost ten years ago and listening to the duders there melt into emotional puddles as the boy would hug his newly found Blob friend. That said, I can’t quite remember when I procured my digital copy on Steam, but I finally installed it a few weeks ago and played through a good chunk of the first world, which is set mainly in a forest. Naturally, like the good blob that I am, I have thoughts.

Before we begin, some background. A Boy and His Blob is a puzzle platformer developed by WayForward Technologies and published by Majesco Entertainment. It came out in 2009 for the Wii and, first to my knowledge, is a re-imagining of the 1989 release A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia, which was originally developed by Imagineering for the NES. Eventually, in 2016 and 2017, it made its way on to other consoles and platforms. Evidently, WayForward’s director Sean Velasco was a big fan of the original NES title and wanted to re-create and update the experience for the current generation.

Story-wise, there’s not a whole lot to A Boy and His Blob. The planet Blobolonia is threatened by an evil emperor, and the titular “blob” flees to Earth to find help. It crash-lands on our nifty planet and finds only a young boy out exploring the wilderness. Together, they team up in order to dethrone the evil emperor. Along the way, minions of the Emperor attempt to stop them.

A Boy and His Blob‘s gameplay consists of platforming and solving puzzles, which nine times out of ten relate to platforming or destroying an enemy in your way of a needed platform. The boy can only do so much and must use his Blob companion to accomplish harder tasks. He can feed the Blob various flavored jellybeans that can turn it into a useful item, such as a ladder or trampoline, and I’m not sure how this is happening, but perhaps it was part of the original NES game’s mechanics. You begin the game with only a handful of these jellybean transformations, but as you progress you’ll acquire new ones too. Some levels restrict you to only certain types, which is helpful knowing that you have everything at your disposal to finish the level.

The game is broken up into different areas, each with ten levels to complete. I still haven’t finished the forest one, the first area, but it sounds like there’s also a boss fight at the end these that will put your jellybean abilities to work. In each world, you begin in your rather large hideout where you’ll have a world map to select levels, with your goal simply being to reach the exit portal near the end. There are also three treasure chests hidden in each level for you to locate and pick up using the Blob, which will unlock unique items in your hideout that can be used to play special challenge levels. You can always replay a level if you missed a collectible.

I’m in love with the art and look of A Boy and His Blob, less infatuated with the way the game plays. The cel-shaded graphics bring the environments to life using vivid colors and thick lines. The actual platforming is not as precise as what you’d find in Super Meat Boy or Super Mario Bros. 2–yeah, that’s right–but it is serviceable, especially because the pacing is slow, and you can really take your time to move forward. I hope to, at the very least, finish the first world off and see a boss fight, but I honestly don’t know how much more I’ll play past that. I’m glad I finally gave A Boy and His Blob some time, even if the majority of said time was spent having them hug one another.

Anodyne’s dream world is perfect for wondering and wandering

Over the weekend, I beat Anodyne, and I still remain conflicted over how I feel about the game overall. I liked a lot of moments and puzzles and found others beyond frustrating; I had to look up several walkthroughs online just to keep going and figure out what I needed to do next, and that is something I desperately try to avoid doing when playing anything for the first time. I don’t know. It’s a strange game, set in an even stranger world, where characters say the strangest things to our leading lad Young, and it’s up to you to determine if what they say matters or not. I don’t think they did.

First, what is Anodyne? It’s an action-adventure game clearly inspired by the original The Legend of Zelda, or even The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, developed by Analgesic Productions, the same team that brought us Even the Ocean and All Our Asias. It was released on PC some years ago, but just came to consoles recently, which was a pleasant surprise. The game begins with little explanation as Young jumps into a dream-like world via a main hub area…for some purpose. Once there, a somewhat terse and shrouded Sage sets him off on a mysterious journey to open gates, defeat evil monsters, and collect a good number of cards. All right then.

Whereas the general tone of things like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and The Legend of the Skyfish are colorful and positive, upbeat, all about adventuring forward and seeing new sights, Anodyne is the opposite. The vibe I constantly felt as I put in over six hours into this dark adventure was one of unease. There’s an unsettling cloud that hangs over every screen, every word that these oddball NPCs spew out at Young, words that seemingly have no purpose other than to take up time or make you wonder. I always felt like I was intruding, disturbing the environment in some way, even on the screens that were complete dead ends. There are tormented characters, and I honestly don’t even know what Briar, the final boss, was all about, but he was certainly disturbed, along with a pain to fight.

Something I love is that Young wields a broom, not a sword. The broom can still be used to attack enemies, but it is also used for puzzle solving, picking up puffs of dust to use to navigate waterways. There are a bunch of upgrades you can get for the broom too to change how it functions, the last one being a real post-game changer. In terms of puzzles, you are usually looking for a key or a way to hit a switch or, even trickier, get an enemy to hit a switch for you. They are never too hard to solve, and I found the jumping parts in the acrobat dungeon to be the hardest to time and nail perfectly. Some frustration comes from the map and seeing rooms with exits you can’t seemingly reach.

The game’s retro look and subtle soundtrack works well for Anodyne‘s vibe. The 16-bit graphics–and, at times, 8-bit–will never blow your face off, but there’s a comforting feel to many of the screens, hearkening back to the good ol’ SNES days with games like Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy III. It makes exploring every nook and cranny worth it, even if all you get is a dead-end screen, and the sound effects of hitting a slime with your broom are satisfying. I did notice some weird flickering on the menu screen, especially when viewing the cards you collected. Other than that, Anodyne plays exactly like it looks like it should play.

I popped all but two Achievements, and I’m okay with that. One is for finding a bunch more cards, which is something you can only do post-game, but I’m not feeling the desire to look around this world more. The other is for beating the game in under three hours–no thanks. Still, in the end, I’m glad I played Anodyne, even if I might not ever truly know how I feel about the experience. That said, I most certainly will be playing whatever comes out of Analgesic Productions next.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Atomic Ninjas

Atomic Ninjas, which is a pretty cool name, one I’m a fan of mostly because I am noodling with a new small comic book about bad ninja-themed jokes, has the most uninspired story. It goes like this: a security guard at a nuclear plant falls asleep on the big red button that one should never, ever push and the planet explodes. However, not all have perished. Thanks to their natural survival instincts, ninjas are mystically altered. And for some reason, they must now fight each other. That’s it. You get nothing more than that to go off of, which is mostly fine considering this is a brawler a la Super Smash Bros. Melee, but c’mon. Try a little harder.

After a quick tutorial with your sensei, an old man who speaks in broken English, your only gameplay options are to have an online match or a local match using friends on the couch or adding in bots to the mix. I tried twice to get an online match going, but it doesn’t seem like Atomic Ninjas has a huge fan base. The game came out in 2013, but it’s one of the newer additions to the PlayStation Plus family of downloads. At one point, someone did join my lobby, and their username had the word Vita in it, but they quickly left after nobody else showed up. Oh well. So it was off to experience this brawler via battling bots.

The main action plays out like this: you and three other players (or AI-controlled bots) are dumped into a somewhat small arena and must destroy each other by flinging them off the limited number of platforms and knocking them into the laser beams on the outskirts. Rinse and repeat, with a few different modes thrown in for good measure, like king of the hill or capture the flag. The premise remains the same, and the focus is always on multiplayer. There are three weapons to use (punch, shuriken, and a force grab to chuck boxes and knock foes back) and three gadgets (grappling hook, wall claw, and rocket-backpack) to help you traverse through the area quicker.

Alas, the action is repetitive and somewhat uninteresting against bots, and the arenas aren’t anything exciting to explore. The ninja costumes you unlock are just that, cosmetic, and don’t really add anything new to the experience. Also. the camera is zoomed in pretty far, which makes figuring out where enemies are a little difficult to discern. Lastly, there’s just not much to do other than what I’ve already described, and the rewards for leveling up are so minimal they might as well not exist at all. Sorry, Atomic Ninjas. Maybe you should have let that massive explosion take you in the end.

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 – 99Vidas

So, on the PlayStation 3, each game gets its own like…splash screen, music, or audio cue when you land on it in the menu selection column. This is both neat and sometimes annoying. Case in point: when you go to play 99Vidas, our topic du jour, you get this screamingly high-pitched voice saying what I think sounds like, “Oh my gawd!” Except it’s more like ohmygawd as in one word, and something about it drives me batty. Other games on my list that also play a really ear-bleeding audio bit include Quantum Conundrum, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, and Siren: Blood Curse. These are not deal-breakers, as they actually push me more to play these games, because the faster I play ’em, the quicker I can remove ’em from the list.

Anyways, 99Vidas, which I believe is Portuguese for “99 lives,” is a side-scrolling beat-em-up developed and published by QuByte Interactive. The game is clearly inspired by classics of the genre, such as Double Dragon, Final Fight, Golden Axe, and Streets of Rage, all of which I played back in the late 80s, full 90s, and somewhat recently. 99Vidas features six playable characters from the start–and more unlocked via multiple sessions–though I only played as King, who seems like the generic go-to dude for punching and kicking. There’s a single player story-driven campaign, as well as multiple cooperative and competitive game modes, for up to four players, which can be played either locally or online. I will admit here and now that I only stuck to the story mode for my brief time with 99Vidas.

Each character has unique attributes, like speed and strength, along with an elemental alignment (fire, water, wind, lightning, and so on), which affects their regular attacks, combos, and special moves. I believe King’s special moves are water-based because at some point I summoned a giant tidal wave to clear out multiple enemies. 99Vidas has a more modern take on the brawl-heavy genre, with characters gaining experience points by defeating enemies and collecting special items that can then be used to upgrade their abilities, combos, and unlock new moves. This makes all the repetitive punching and kicking less…repetitive, but you still end up doing a lot of the same combos because once you find one that works it continues to work as your character grows stronger.

Believe it or not, there is a story in 99Vidas, and it’s a bizarre one. Some might even call it bombastic. The game starts when an artifact known as the 99Vidas goes missing. Uh oh. Now, this artifact is believed to hold immense power possible of covering the Earth in darkness and chaos. Double uh oh. The Guardians of the 99Vidas, granted the Power of the Elements, are bound to live through the ages to protect this artifact, which means it is your responsibility to face these forces of evil, defeat the Evil Boss and his six henchmen, and retrieve the legendary 99Vidas. More or less, go beat up everyone in your path and retrieve the shiny trinket.

99Vidas seems like a perfectly fine and perfunctory beat-em-up. It has some modern elements to it to keep things fresh, but I found myself getting bored playing alone, doing all the punching, kicking, and combo-ing, and the boss fights can be a wee bit difficult if you are running this solo. I got a few levels deep into the whole affair, but it hasn’t really drawn me back in. Others might really dig it, but I for one am now happy to remove it from my PlayStation 3’s library.

Ohmygawd!

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.

You are designed for accomplishment, so says 100,000 Gamerscore

As y’all probably know, I’ve been at this for a while, slowly building up my pointless and inconsequential Gamerscore, trying to hit it perfectly on big numbers like 10,000, 20,000, and so on. It makes getting these silly things called Achievements fun and somewhat meaningful to me, especially the extra ones you have to actually work for, and I will most likely continue to go at it…though having now finally hit 100,000, I feel like I might not make a big stink of it going forward. I mean, sure 110,000 is a bigger and better number than 100,000, but it just doesn’t seem as cool. Weird.

Anyways, I was real close to hitting this mega-milestone mark back in July, but then some other things happened, and I was away from my Xbox One for a good number of weeks. Once I was back to recovering at home on the couch, I was able to play a few more titles and earn some Achievements, hitting 100,000 perfectly on the nose thanks to games like Death Squared, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and State of Decay 2. Woo, go me, big celebration.

As always, picture proof, though I only snapped this one photo of my cool-as-cool-gets number using my cell phone’s camera against my broken TV:

Also, I updated my avatar, something I didn’t think you could even do anymore.

A quick side note. One of my favorite things from this current generation of gaming is when a game, such as Gears of War 4 or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, comes out with new Achievements, recognizes you already did the work to pop ’em, and grants you them with glee from the moment you next sign into the game. That’s happened recently, and I’ve also been noodling away at Anodyne, which I will say nothing else of here except that is a game that deserves its own post and exhaustive breakdown because…hoo boy. Also, playing a bunch of Fortnite, but because there’s no Achievements for the Battle Royale mode, that’s not a real thing.

I’m currently almost a thousand points ahead of 100,000 and not even thinking about the next milestone. It’s been a fun journey, starting way back in February 2010 on the ol’ Xbox 360, but I have other issues to concern myself with at the moment. Thanks for coming along with me nonetheless. I’m sure I’ll find some other dumb thing to focus on down the road. Until then, readers…

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Vandal Hearts

At first, I couldn’t remember the name of this game. Was it Valiant Hearts? No, that was the dramatic Great War take starring a cool dog from a few years back. Was it Vigilante Hearts? No, though something under that title does appear to exist. At last, after some light Googling, I figured it out and everything came rushing back…Vandal Hearts, one of my first stabs at a strategy RPG, as well as the title that helped pave the way for future classics like Final Fantasy Tactics and the Ogre Battle series. Too bad this one didn’t really go anywhere. Also, don’t expect it to show up on the forthcoming PlayStation Classic…though I’m surprised that both a sequel and a prequel were later made.

Anyways, this Vandal Hearts is a turn-based tactical role-playing video game developed by my once favorite companies Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo for the original PlayStation back in 1997. It’s got a lot of what many modern, staple SRPGs have these days, such as Fire Emblem and its ilk: a grid-based map, a variety of abilities to employ, and rock/paper/scissors combat. Y’know, warriors with swords kill archers, archers kill hawknights, and hawknights kill swordsmen. There’s also healers, mages, heavy armor warriors, and monks to contend with–who later can turn into ninja, y’know like all monks eventually do. Your enemies for each mission is comprised of similar classes, and it’s your responsibility to exploit their weaknesses, and not every mission is about destroying all the enemies as other objectives are in play.

Vandal Hearts‘ story, as far as I can remember and dig up info on, revolves around one Ash Lambert, a young warrior tormented by the traitorous legacy of his father. Ash and his wonderfully named cast of allies have dedicated themselves to stopping a power-mad dictator named Hel Spites–what a name–from rising to power. It’s a bit traditional, but I liked a lot of the characters and dialogues, and there are some early twists to deal with that make their progress slow and, at times, a little dull.

I definitely did not ever beat Vandal Hearts. I probably didn’t even get too far into the whole affair as I knew early on that SRPGs just weren’t my cup of tea. Though many years later some titles would change my mind momentarily. I do remember being confused why archers were not able to shoot diagonally. Also, moving a cursor around with a PlayStation console was a chore and never felt fluid. Still, it’s a game I think about from time to time, maybe because I dig its aesthetic so much, or because I spent so much of my lonely teenager years hanging out with my best friend the gray videogame console adorned with PSM lid stickers, and the music is super solid.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.