Category Archives: musings

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Sky Force Anniversary

Sky Force Anniversary is described as a legendary shoot-em-up, but I unfortunately never really heard of it until I sat down the other day to give it a go on the ol’ PlayStation 3. Over my many years of playing all these dang vidyagamez, shoot-em-ups are a genre I just don’t find myself drawn to…though I do remember playing a lot of Thunder Spirits and U.N. Squadron on the SNES back in the day. Maybe a bit of RayStorm too. Still, if I am to play one of these, I prefer them to not be bullet hell style, as that is just masochism at its finest.

After some minimal research, I discovered that Sky Force is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up series created by the Polish developer Infinite Dreams. The gameplay is reminiscent of Capcom’s 19XX series and Seibu Kaihatsu’s Raiden series, of which I don’t think I’ve played either, featuring a weapon upgrade system and large end-of-stage bosses. The first title in the series was originally released for Symbian and Pocket PC in 2004 and was ported to Palm webOS (2005), iOS (2009), and Android (2010). Also, the first game in the series was 2D and entirely sprite-based.

You start off Sky Force Anniversary with a fairly powerful ship, shooting down waves of incoming enemies with ease. Alas, as expected, things happen, and your ship loses all its great abilities. It is up to the player to build their battle-ship back to its glorious former self over the proceeding handful of levels. Warning: it’s going to take time, and by time..I mean grinding. The first few levels are not technically difficult, but enemies will take more hits to destroy and you’ll find your ship exploding sooner than expected. Defeating enemies drops collectible stars, which used to upgrade your ship in the hanger between levels, with each upgrade requiring more and more stars, naturally. Despite only unlocking up to the third mission, I found myself replaying missions one and two just to earn more stars and boost my ship a bit. It’s not exactly a barrel of fun, but it gets the job done…slowly.

All in all, Sky Force Anniversary feels slightly more scaled back in terms of overwhelming action, focusing instead more on patterns and the movement of enemies. You won’t experience a thousand and one bullets flying at your ship, but rather a small handful, with other things to track as well, such as stars to collect, people to rescue, boxes to shoot open, and so on. Each level has four bonus goals to complete, such as rescuing people or killing the majority of enemies, though it seems like, at least for the first three levels, these are all the same. Evidently, if you complete all four challenges, you can play an even harder version of the mission.

See ya, Sky Force Anniversary. You were a decent amount of fun for a few levels, but you just aren’t my thing. My favorite part, overall, was the little “ya-hoos” that people screamed when you rescued them off the ground.

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.

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Rolling dice never changes with Fallout: The Board Game

I am still surprised to this day that I did not fall head over heels in love with Fallout 4. I mean, I like it well enough, but the obsessive amount of exploring I did in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas never reared its pretty head in the same way, and I’ve tried going back to the campaign about finding my stolen son and defeating–or teaming up with–an army of synths several times now to see things from a different perspective, never really getting too far in and eventually petering out when something more interesting comes along to demand I play it. Still, if anything, Fallout 4 brought with it some fun side stuff that I enjoy more than the main gig, such as Fallout Shelter and Fallout: The Board Game; I’ve already talked about the former, and this post is most definitely about the latter.

Initially, I balked at Fallout: The Board Game‘s price tag. Sixty dollars plus tax sure seemed like a lot for…a board game, but maybe I’m still new to this cardboard, tiles, meeples-run world, considering I’ve looked around online and seen other games priced much higher than that. Still, that price is in line with a brand-new videogame release, and I don’t often get a lot of those. Well, regardless of all that, in March or April of this year–sorry, my chemo-drippy brain is fuzzy on the details–I entered V.A.T.S., selected a copy for a 100% lethal shot, and watched as Bloody Mess played out at the register. Er, I bought a copy. Sorry, sometimes I lose myself in both the world and language of Fallout.

Okay, time for the nitty-gritty. No, not that Gritty. Fallout: The Board Game is a post-nuclear adventure board game for one to four players. Naturally, it’s based on the mega-popular series–well, maybe not Fallout 76 as it currently is–by Bethesda Softworks. There are multiple story scenarios to play through, and each is inspired by a familiar story from the franchise. Survivors begin the game on the edge of an unexplored landscape, uncertain of what awaits them. With just one objective to guide them from the very beginning, each player must explore the hidden map, fight off ferocious, irradiated enemies, and build up their survivor’s skills as they attempt to complete challenging quests and balance feuding factions within the game. To win, you must reach a specific amount of agenda influence points, and the number of influence points required for victory is dependent on how many players are participating.

Fallout: The Board Game is played in a series of rounds, with each player getting two actions on a turn. Different actions include moving, exploring new tiles, fighting enemies, questing and encountering, and resting. After all players finish their respective turn, the round ends with monsters activating and looking for wanderers to attack. Combat is handled with three custom dice. Every monster has vulnerable areas, represented by the V.A.T.S. icon, and players must roll to hit these specific areas. Having a weapon and matching S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats will grant re-rolls, along with other cards and perks. Defeating monsters grants XP and sometimes loot, but the monster doesn’t go away entirely, instead it retreats into a dormant stage to fight again another day.

Experience is handled through a pretty nifty leveling system attached to a tracker. Each point of experience will move a peg along the player’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. track, skipping over any empty spaces. Once it completes a circlet, the player gets to draw a new S.P.E.C.I.A.L. token to add to their stats. Duplicate tokens will instead grant a perk and single use abilities, and having certain S.P.E.C.I.A.L. tokens will affect combat encounters and mission quests. You also track your amount of radiation on this board, and if your HP every goes below the current radiation peg…your character perishes. The tracker also has slots for companions and inventory items.

There are quests. Lots of ’em. In fact, the base game comes with a 150-card deck of numbered missions to complete. When a player has an encounter, another player will read the card and options to them, but not the results. The player must then decide which option to choose without knowing the outcome. Alas, when playing solo, it can be difficult to not read the results as you do this to yourself, and I often based my decision on already knowing what goodies I got. Many quests will branch off into multiple cards after granting experience points or loot, and some will also reward you with influence points. Following an entire questline to its end is fun and just as satisfactory as in the videogames, but sometimes you have to juggle multiple quests, which can become overwhelming.

Phew. I know that is probably a lot to take in, and for me, it took several attempts at playing Fallout: The Board Game for most of that to sink in. I’m still not 100% certain how the shop works, but whatever. Also, the agenda points system isn’t great, especially in solo mode, but it’s how you win the game. Personally, I wish it wasn’t, as I have more fun doing quests and exploring unflipped tiles than trying to balance two factions or simply focusing on a single one only to betray it at the end if you suddenly see a way to get more agenda points with the other faction. It just doesn’t feel cohesive, but maybe it works better with more players fighting to gain these points first.

So far, I’ve only played solo, and it can be a lot to pay attention to. Each game has roughly taken me two to three hours to complete, and my first time having a go at it, most of that was dealing with the game’s initial setup. There’s a lot to set up, from the placement of tiles, to the shop, to your inventory, to the multiple quest decks, and so on. The game pieces look amazing, and I love the little enemy tokens. It’s pretty exciting to see things I barely glanced at in the videogames represented as useful cards here. I’ve occasionally also forgotten some rules and flubbed my way through a mission, and there was one mission card related to the alien mothership that simply broke my brain; I tried searching online for an explanation of what to do, but couldn’t find anything so I simply packed everything up and called it a day. The game is aesthetically cool, but not perfect in how it plays.

Oh, and I just became aware that there’s already an expansion available called New California. Right, and this gaming mat looks really neat and would certainly help me keep things more organized because I generally don’t know where to keep some of the decks and other items in relation to my health tracker and other cards…though its price tag is not immediately desirable considering it costs just as much as an entire game expansion. Hmm. Either way, I’ll keep having a go at Fallout: The Board Game in hopes that I can actually win it without getting a rule wrong or forgetting to do something vital. Y’know, like moving all the monsters towards me at the end of a round.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Master Reboot

Master Reboot is a cool name for a game I don’t understand. At least it isn’t ReBoot, a Canadian CGI-animated action-adventure television series that originally aired from 1994 to 2001…of which, I saw several episodes. For funsies, you should check out the intro and feel special knowing that you are witnessing the world’s first completely computer-animated TV series. A true piece of animation history. Too bad it kind of stunk.

What Master Reboot actually is…well, it’s not exactly spelled out from the get-go. I think it is an adventure game, heavy on exploration and puzzle solving, with a bit of spookiness thrown in to keep you on your polygonal feet. It takes place inside the Soul Cloud, which is a giant server that holds the data of your soul and memories when you die. The Soul Cloud is brimming floating islands, and each island looks like a town, village, or city filled with rooms, skyscrapers, and houses that hold people’s memories. To house your soul, a family member (or you before you die, if you are prepared for it) must purchase an island on the Soul Cloud where the server will generate these spaces to hold each and every memory from the deceased’s past. There are, evidently, 34 unique environments to see, but I probably only saw one-fifth of them in the time I spent poking at Master Reboot.

The game has a look, and I’d call that look somewhat simplistic. Low-fi and low on details. On purpose. I’m perfectly fine with flat textures and few details–I loved it recently with Burly Men at Sea, as well as countless other games that went with the less-is-more route–but here I felt like there actually could have been more. A few more shades of detail to really drive home being in a certain place, like a school or child’s bedroom. Also, the game doesn’t even try to hide its invisible walls, them appearing as red-colored shield-walls when you venture too far away from the main path, like you are trapped under a highly technical dome. I kept bumping into these walls, hoping to go somewhere else, but alas, nope, nope, nope. It was a bit jarring.

That aside, because I do think the story is somewhat neat and don’t mind the occasional jump scare, my biggest problem with Master Reboot has to do with its puzzles. More often than not, they truly tried my nerves, as in the case of a memory that forced me to drive into oncoming traffic or one that made me recreate an image from memory when I hadn’t seen the parent image in a half hour or more. Completing these usually yielded some insight into the world’s mythology or the protagonist’s identity, but they were mostly obtuse obstacles to keep answers at bay. The game definitely doesn’t hold your hand, and it’s up to you to figure out what you are supposed to evidently do; yes, I’m looking at you, puzzle that had me rotating tiles to form three distinct pictures.

I gave up on Master Reboot after solving the puzzles in the park playground level, of which I had to look up a couple solutions for. After this is over, you have to use jump pads to leap from one sinking platform to another. Please don’t ask me why. If you aren’t quick enough, you drown and get a screen full of code, forced to try again. I tried three times and said, “No more.” The controls are built for a slow-moving game about exploring a small environment, in search of puzzle items or tiny blue ducks that act as the game’s collectibles. It’s not meant for moving quickly from one area to another. Ultimately, it’s not meant for me to keep playing.

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.

Space is totally the place for Starlink: Battle for Atlas

I’ve been itching for a space game lately, and two kept floating in front of my eyes as top choices–No Man’s Sky and Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Now, I promised myself I wouldn’t purchase one of these until I rung Mark of the Ninja: Remastered completely dry, which I did recently, and so it was upon me–the decision. Also, part of me felt guilty about purchasing a new game when I knew that I’d be picking up Spyro Reignited Trilogy in just a few days. Anyways, I went with Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the digital non-toy version, and I’ll explain my reasoning below.

No Man’s Sky is a big game, possibly endless, and it’s gotten a number of major updates since it originally launched to help expand it into something more. This is both cool and daunting. To me, it feels both a little too open and a little too much to take on; I love the idea of flying around a planet, examining the flora and fauna, and getting into a few dogfights, but that game now also wants you to be creative and build bases and really show off your imagination. I’m not ready for that, with my limited gaming time and attention. All I really want is a checklist of things to do, and the ability to go forward and do them. So far, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is accomplishing that greatly.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an action-adventure title developed by Ubisoft Toronto and published by Ubisoft for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The game also features optional toys-to-life elements. For those not in the know, toys-to-life uses physical figurines or action figures to interact with the game of choice. These toys generally use near field communication, radiofrequency identification, or image recognition data protocol to determine the individual figurine’s proximity, and also saves a player’s progress data to a storage medium located within that piece. However, toys-to-life has been losing popularity over the years, so to ensure that the game is consumer-friendly, this aspect of the game was made optional, meaning that players can play the game digitally without purchasing any of the toys. That’s what I did as I do not need to clutter up the townhouse with plastic stuff.

Right, let’s get to it then. Starlink: Battle for Atlas has a story y’all. After an amnesiac alien fell to Earth, a secretive benefactor named Victor St Grand forms the Starlink Initiative to search for its origins, leading them to the Atlas system. Alas, Victor St Grand goes and gets himself kidnapped, and you, as part of a group of heroic interstellar pilots, are now dedicated to free the Atlas Star System from Grax and the Forgotten Legion. This will involve traveling to a number of unique planets, pushing back the Legion, and growing alliances with allies to bulk up your chance to take down Grax for good. The story, so far, is well told, through a mix of CGI cutscenes, art stills cutscenes, and solid voiceover work. Also, this has been driving me mad since I started playing, but I finally just figured out that the character Kharl Zeon is voiced by George Buza, mostly known to me for his work in the early 1990s on X-Men: The Animated Series as Beast/Dr. Henry “Hank” McCoy. That’s one iconic voice.

Swapping is a thing you do a lot in Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Now, I’m mostly only swapping out my weapons based on enemy types or a specific puzzle to solve; I prefer to stick with one pilot, namely Razor Lemay, a trained fighter pilot and self-professed metal-head, and one ship, namely the Zenith, and level them up as much as possible instead of having a bunch of lower-leveled pilots and ships. This may or may not put me at a disadvantage later, but so far it hasn’t been a problem on the default difficulty. For weapons, I really like the Flamethrower and Shredder, and Razor’s pilot ability, which is called Power Chord, can clear an entire screen of enemies in all its beautiful Guitar Hero-esque glory. Playing digitally makes this quick and easy; sure, having the toy in front of you to reflect these changes might be neat at first, but I could see it also becoming cumbersome to change things around every few minutes, especially in the middle of a big battle.

Everything is pretty chill in Starlink: Battle for Atlas, all in all. You can zip around a planet, scan animals, collect strange fruit and resources, upgrade refineries and other buildings, clear out imp hives, protect something as hacking begins, do missions for strange, alien-people, and simply discover everything there is to discover. If you want, at any time, you can fly up into space and go to another planet or get into some Colony Wars-like skirmishes, taking down raiders with style. Each planet contains a list of things to do, and the more you do, the more that planet’s people like you and will support you in taking down Grax. Honestly, it’s been a great game to pop into for an hour or so, do a few things, and see that you are making progress, inch by inch.

Currently, I’m trying to gain support from a bunch of planets before I take on the Dreadnought, a large enemy ship that Victor St Grand is hiding out in. I’m sure he’d like my help as soon as possible, but I’m not in a rush. Thankfully, neither is Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and there’s always something else to do if you don’t want to take on a campaign mission. Heck, at any moment, you can even generate a random mission to do…though they are mostly fetch quests or something easy like that. I do wonder how much I’ll play after completing the storyline and checking off each planet’s list of things to accomplish; I’d love to try out some other pilots and weapons, but not enough to max out each one. Or maybe I will…later in 2019. For now, I’m having a great time zipping around these strange, new lands.

Return home to familial strangeness with Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1

I am one of those people that grew up in the ’90s reading those various More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books by Alvin Schwartz, and, yes, I was extremely disappointed when they got reissued with all new art, illustrations that did not immediately make your blood run cold and stay with you for years on end. One of my favorite short stories from these horror collections–favorite is actually a weird choice here, but I think you get what I mean–was “Harold,” which is mostly about two farmers mistreating their scarecrow and then getting their just desserts. Both the story and Stephen Gammell’s intro art for it have never left me, and I mention all this only because Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 features a scarecrow up to no good. Alas, it’s not as terrifying.

Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 is a horror-mystery, point-and-click adventure game where you must find the truth about your mother’s death. It’s free on Steam…well, this first chapter is, and it should only take you about a half hour to get through it. The police came to the conclusion that Helen Lancaster’s suicide, where she gutted herself with a kitchen knife, was due to the grief of losing her husband. However, her son, Clint Lancaster, doesn’t believe a woman as deeply religious as her mother would do such a thing and plans to investigate. As you further explore your childhood farmhouse, you’ll discover that nothing is as it seems; in fact, things are getting stranger by the minute.

Gameplay is fairly simple. You can use a mouse to click everything or use a controller…though I stuck with the keyboard mostly. Like, the up, down, left, right arrows and the enter key; I’m a relic. Item use and item combination is all automatic, which some people may like, but it results in a lot less thinking when it comes to solving puzzles. Oh, this cabinet door is stuck? I’ll just immediately use this cane from my dead grandfather to prop it open. No, no, don’t worry, I got this for you. I really didn’t want you to have to try out all the other items on it first. Again, it’s fine, if a little dumbed down. Also, a couple of items are tricky to spot, so there is a small amount of pixel hunting to deal with. Other than that, you are mostly exploring different rooms in the farmhouse and watching them change as you go, with your true goal being getting into the cellar.

Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike a many RPGMaker-made games. They all contain a similar look and menu UI, and, at first, I thought it was really neat and awesome, but I’ve grown tired of seeing the same pixel art and character portraits and start screens. It seems like the “new releases” tab on Steam, on any given day, contains at least one or two creations like this. I don’t know if Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 was made with RPGMaker, but it feels like it; that said, it has a better design to it, and I do like the small circle of light around Clint, which does obfuscate parts of the room you are exploring, leaving room for scares and surprises. The writing, while a little rote in places, does a good job of leading you along, revealing enough dribs and drabs about Clint’s parents for you to fill in the rest with your imagination.

According to the Steam page description, there are three endings to discover. I’m not sure if that is meant for Chapter 1 only or the series as a whole. Not exactly sure how different of an ending I could have conceived as I felt like I found every item and solved all the puzzles, but maybe there was something I missed. Oh well. Honestly, I would have preferred not to see the [redacted] at the end, but that’s me, an animal lover. Looks like Chapter 2 is available now, with more chapters to go down the road, but this didn’t draw me in enough to have me foaming at the mouth for more. I’ll leave Azurael’s Circle forever closed.

Dragalia Lost is pretty, confusing, and pretty confusing

Nintendo has released a couple of games for mobile devices now, namely Super Mario Run, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Dragalia Lost, and I finally have a phone fancy enough to play ’em. Suck it, Windows phone…just kidding, I loved that phone mostly because it had games on it that connected with the Xbox Achievements system. That said, I’ve only touched the free-to-start version of Super Mario Run and found it both perfunctory and fine, but nothing worth dropping some bucks on. Hmm, I probably should uninstall it, seeing as I haven’t touched it in months. Anyways…Dragalia Lost. Hoo boy.

It’s old-school fantasy stuff, with the story taking place in Alberia, a kingdom where dragons live. Now, all royal members in Alberia have the Dragon Transformation ability, where they can wield a dragon’s power by forming a pact with it to borrow their form in battle. This is just something that happens and is accepted by all. Well, one day, a strange occurrence begins to happen in Alberia, with the Holy Shard protecting the capital beginning to lose its power. In order to save his people, the Seventh Prince, who has not made a pact with a dragon yet, sets off on his Dragon Selection Trial. It’s not the worst setup for an RPG though I am growing tired of magical crystals and shards being the McGuffin to get the plot going. Yes, Final Fantasy…I blame you.

How does this “big” game on a little screen play? Fairly straightforward. Players create teams of colorful characters obtained either through gameplay or by spending in-game currency via a randomized gacha machine-style store to assist the Seventh Prince on his mission. These teams are used to take on a series of bite-sized, action-oriented levels featuring very basic fighting mechanics. Mainly attacking enemies and collecting coins/XP. Players swipe to move, tap to attack, and press buttons via the UI to activate skills or temporarily transform into a giant beast. Yup, sometimes it’s a dragon, and sometimes it is clearly not a dragon, but the game still considers it so. Animal classification is tricky.

If you aren’t working your way through these quick levels or reading the game’s dailogue-heavy story chapters, there’s a lot of other things to manage or tinker with in Dragalia Lost. Most of it is seemingly designed to be confusing from the start. Everything can be upgraded–characters, weapons, dragon forms, dragon skills, etc. There is so much upgrading to do; however, this is a free-to-play mobile game, which means players need to grind out levels, materials, and partake in special event dungeons to acquire the majority of these essential upgrading items. Or, you know, spend real money to buy everything you want. Evidently, you eventually unlock a castle section that can help generate resources, but I’m not there yet. Nor will I ever be.

All items that you will want to upgrade share some key concepts with each other, of which the easiest to grok is enhancing weapons with materials. Each kind of item is upgradeable through the use of various rarities of material, such as crystals for adventurers. The next shared concept is enhancing items with the same class of items. Fine, fine. For instance, you can strengthen weapons by sacrificing other, weaker ones to it. Basically feeding a less-than-powerful weapon to the same type, like repairing guns in Fallout: New Vegas. The final communal upgrade path is unbinding, a term that kind of breaks my brain. Basically, this is how you get past an item’s eventual level cap. With unbinding, you will need a copy of an item to raise how much experience it can gain. It also doesn’t help that the menu UI is a little difficult to navigate, and there’s far too many things to click on at any one moment.

Here’s what really rubbed me the wrong way or just in general confused the dragon droppings out of me in Dragalia Lost. Every time I went to do something new, whether it was a quest or explore a just-revealed menu option…the game prompted me that it had to download more data. Sometimes this would take a minute or two, sometimes it was upwards of ten minutes if it was a sizeable chunk of stuff to install. I thought the whole point of downloading the game from the get-go was to download the whole game. I’m not a big fan of this piecemeal method. In fact, as I was writing this post, I went to uninstall the game and was prompted, from the home screen, that it needed to download more data to continue forward. Funk that.

Still, Dragalia Lost both looks and sounds amazing. The song that plays on the home screen is beautiful and worth the download. Or you can click this link and save some space on your phone. Everything else comes off as both a bit one-note or ultra head-scratchy, and I’d prefer something more in the middle, a little easier to digest. Maybe the Shining Force Classics from Sega–consisting of Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force, and Shining Force II, and which I have already downloaded and waiting for me to tap on–will do the trick. For now, I’ll say goodbye to Dragalia Lost and hello to more room on my cellular device. Hello!

Mark of the Ninja: Remastered is stealth perfection, once more

I loved Mark of the Ninja, back when I played it in late 2012, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the game via the recently released Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, which, thanks to Klei, was given out for free to owners of the original title. Y’know, like me. Honestly, I had no idea this was even a thing that was happening; one day, I was skimming through my list of “ready to install” on the Xbox One, as I’m wont to do, and I saw a new icon there for it. Consider me tickled pink and pleased.

What makes this version remastered? I’m not exactly sure. Evidently, there was a bit of “Special Edition” DLC released for the game way back in the day that added a flashback level and new play style, but I didn’t even know that existed, and Mark of the Ninja: Remastered comes with that included. Oh, and there’s also some developer commentary nodes to discover as you play, of which I read every single entry as I find the behind-the-scenes stuff really interesting, especially when the devs are talking about limitations or coming up with unique solutions to problems. I believe this new version also features high-resolution art and improved sound, but it kind of looked, felt, and sounded like the same game to me.

Mark of the Ninja: Remastered‘s story remains the same, so I’ll touch on it only briefly. Our unnamed ninja protagonist–y’know what, let’s refer to him as Larry Ninja from this point forward–is resting after receiving an extensive irezumi tattoo, but is suddenly awakened by a female ninja named Ora. A heavily armed force is attacking the dojo of the Hisomu ninja clan. After gathering up his equipment, Larry Ninja is able to defeat these attackers and rescue his sensei, Azai, as well as several other members of the clan. Then it is off to the races, to take revenge on a corporation called Hessian, run by a ruthless Eastern European plutocrat named Count Karajan.

Dosan’s Tale is the DLC I never experienced during my first go with the game. It’s a flashback level to the early life of Dosan, the tattoo artist for Larry Ninja, which sets the stage for the events that transpire in Mark of the Ninja. It offers a different play style with new, nonlethal takedowns, as well as two new items, one geared toward stealth and the other one being more direct. It’s not terribly long, but it is enjoyable and fun to play a different way; I was mostly a mix of lethal and nonlethal during my two playthroughs, and only focused on being truly stealthy while going back to levels to get all the scrolls, seals, and challenges. The dust moths are pretty neat, and you can use these additional items in the main game’s levels too, opening up additional ways to deal with guards and spotlights and snipers, oh my.

Look, I don’t want to sit here and just rehash whatever I’ve already said about Mark of the Ninja, but it truly is a fun game to play, even when you goof up a stealth section yet manage to come out of it alive thanks to the game’s tight controls and variety of items or options to silence all the guards and barking dogs. My favorite tactic this second time around was using poisoned darts to make guards panic, shoot their co-workers, and then take their own life. Naturally, this helped me get through tons of sections where I just hung to a wall in the shadows and watched the chaos unfold for mega bonus points. I also found myself learning how to hide bodies better to the point that I considered becoming a ninja myself, a true covert agent from feudal Japan. I even went the extra mile to pop every Achievement but one because I’m not interested in doing a new game plus playthrough where things get even tougher for Larry Ninja.

If you already played Mark of the Ninja and found it to be just fine, you probably don’t need to double dip. However, I really enjoyed going back to Klei’s well-designed world, and stealth-killing a guard, stringing him up to a light-post, and watching his friends freak out never gets old. If you have yet to experience the fun that I just described, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of Mark of the Ninja: Remastered.