Category Archives: musings

Five games I’ve been perpetually playing these last few months

Right now, change is afoot. Good change, happy change. Not useless pennies and dirty nickels change, but the quality of life kind. Because of that, I’ve put off starting a bunch of new, so fresh and so clean games, especially large time-sinks like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which will be my reward for completing chapter two of Death, Divorce, and Disney, whenever that happens. I also have my beady eyes on LEGO Worlds, Thimbleweed Park, Yooka-Laylee, and LEGO City Undercover. And that’s just a few off the top of my hairy head. There’s never been a better time to be playing videogames, both new and less new.

Because of this, I’ve been focusing on a few games only over the last few months, trying not to juggle too many things at once. Let’s take a look at them, through words of course…

Dragon Age: Inquisition

I got this and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor digitally for Xbox One during Microsoft’s Black Friday sale last November. Of the two, I picked the one I hadn’t already played a bit of and really enjoyed myself. For a good while, too, especially once I got to Skyhold and found myself running my own castle of loyal followers and friends. However, this game is big. Perhaps bloated in spots, with a lot of side quests that, while not interesting or extremely rewarding, must be completed because they are on a list of unfinished tasks, and I have to be thorough because I’m probably ever only going to play Dragon Age: Inquisition once and so I might as well see it all.

Each region is massive, and I recently stumbled prematurely into an area meant for post-game DLC, though I suspect I’m somewhat underleveled for it considering how many potions I’m burning through with each encounter. Oh well. It must be completed. That said, I don’t even know what is going on with the plot or how much of the main game I have left to see. Methinks a ton, which is why I will continue poking at this dragon-esque adventure for a few more months still, until the sky is free of every mystical demon-summoning gate.

Stardew Valley

I only got about 25 to 30 hours in on Stardew Valley when playing it on PC last year, but since then, it came out on consoles, and growing crops at Melanator Farm has been a mainstay in my weekly gaming routine. I’m certainly further than before on the Xbox One, now working through my second year of that sweet, sweet farmin’ life. Here’s a quick summary: I’ve completed the Community Center, I’m married to Maru, and we have a baby that four-hearts me very much. I still have a bunch of other things I want to do, like ship more crops, befriend more dudes (Maru doesn’t like when I gift too nicely to other women in town), and go at least another year and see what my Grandpa thinks of my work.

Battle Ages

Somewhere in my lengthy list of drafts here at Grinding Down, I have a work-in-progress blog post for Battle Ages that I have been saving for when I “complete” the game. Or rather when I feel like I’ve completed my time with it. I thought that might have happened sooner than later, as I’m nearly the last Achievement I want to pop, which is for leveling up my settlement to the Industrial Age. That costs 6.5 million in-game gold coins, which takes a while to build up, especially when you log in and see that you lost a million or so when not playing due to invading enemies and such. This is a free-to-play take on Age of Empires with limited space to build and glacier-like slow gameplay, but it’s something I keep dipping into every now and then to see how my people are progressing between Netflix and going to bed.

Gimme Five

Gimme Five, besides being a somewhat odd name and just makes me think of that one Seinfeld episode, is a trivia game that puts your knowledge of anything and everything to the test. Questions range from rhyming words to geography to pop culture to math and so on. It really does run the gamut. The aim of the game is simple–answer as many questions as you can before the time runs out. Each question has 5 correct answers, and in order to move on to the next question you need to answer it correctly. Or you can use some power-ups, like skipping the question entirely, highlighting one right selection, or removing all the wrong answers.

It’s trivia. That means I have good runs and bad runs, depending on the subjects at hand. For instance, I’m phenomenal at identifying words with five syllables, and I’m not so good with prime numbers or countries in Africa that border another country. Backing all this thinking is a surprisingly great soundtrack, and the UI is clean and easy to navigate. Gimme Five is something I go to when waiting for my dinner to cook or need to zone out for a few minutes, with my intention being to only play a round or two and then discover I’ve done ten in a row and it’s half an hour later.

Disney magical world 2

When I last wrote about Disney Magical World 2 here, it was in January 2017, and I was ready to put the collectathon down for a bit until the in-game environments changed over for Spring on April 1. I mostly kept to this plan, putting some time into Pokémon Moon and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King instead. However, a few weeks before Spring was to debut, I put the cartridge back into my 3DS and have been chipping away at my completion rate (now over 50%!), as well as those post-game pro stickers. I have only one left, which asks you to surf 400 meters in Lilo and Stitch’s land without falling off. This is no easy task, requiring luck and timing and a strong thumb, and the best I’ve gotten to is around 375 meters.

Since then, Spring has hit Castleton, with character-themed eggs to find, bunny costumes to craft, and Easter medals to stock up on. This season will last sometime into June, if I recall correctly. Maybe I’ll be around 75% completion by the time things change once more. We’ll see.

I fully expect to still be playing these five games, as well as some others, like Gears of War 4 and Borderlands 2, over the next few months. After all, sometimes familiarity amidst change can be calming, grounding. This is a topic for another post down the road, but I actually have anxiety over all the untouched games in my collection and often freeze when trying to decide what to play next, settling for something that I already know and enjoy rather than plunging into the unknown.

What games have stayed in rotation lately for you? Tell me about them in the comments below. Especially if one of them is Panzermadels: Tank Dating Simulator. Especially.

Cut the Rope, grind out some free Achievements

I’m a curious fella, and so I like to download a range of freebies, judging nothing by its cover or title or clearly-designed-for-mobile artstyle, from walking simulators to platformers to physics-based puzzle games. Like Cut the Rope. Now, I got Cut the Rope as a free download on the Windows Store back in November 2016, many moons after everyone probably already played it on their phones. Or somewhere else. No, really. Allow me to list a few of the places you could have already played ZeptoLab’s indie darling from October 2010: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Leap Motion, BlackBerry 10, Symbian, BlackBerry PlayBook, DSiWare, Mac OS X Browser, BlackBerry, Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo eShop), Chrome OS, Firefox OS, Nook, iPad, and so on. I’m sure I missed a few platforms too. Sheesh.

Cut the Rope‘s objective, from its title alone, should be self-explanatory, but there’s a little more to it than simply snipping some string. Sorry, I love alliteration. Your true goal is to feed candy to a little green creature named Om Nom while collecting stars. The candy just happens to be tied up by a bunch of ropes, and by cutting them and using other elements in the level, like bubbles and puffs of air, along with general physics and momentum, you must guide the candy to Om Nom’s gaping mouth. You can use your finger to cut by swiping it across the touchscreen, but I’m cooler than that and played it on my laptop so imagine the same sweet maneuver, but done on a less-than-stellar trackpad. Boom goes the dynamite. It actually works fine, with the bonus of not having to look at my phone any more than I already do.

I was initially under the impression that Cut the Rope was like nearly every other free-to-play iteration built around getting three stars in a level out there–y’know, Angry Birds, Bad Piggies, Crush the Castle, and on for infinity. Nope. Well, not this version from the Windows Store, at least. If anything, this is Nintendo’s take on free-to-start, with only the first six levels of the first two worlds available for play and the remainder under lock and key. I thought I’d get the whole game and just have to occasionally close some advertisements or deal with an energy meter that limited how much I can play. Turns out, my play time was constricted, to only 12 levels that clearly hinted at fun gameplay and a super cute aesthetic, but I found one way to milk this cow for all it ultimately had. Ew, milk. I must think of a better metaphor for next time; anyways, I’m talking about Achievements. They’re those digital rewards I’m still somewhat interested in popping for the games I play.

Yes, despite only have access to a few early levels, I was able to unlock nine of Cut the Rope‘s 19 Achievements. Not bad for zero pennies and maybe an hour and change of my time. These Achievements revolved around doing tasks a specific amount, such as cutting X ropes, popping X bubbles, and losing X pieces of candy and were easily earn-able through repetition. Find a level that quickly lets you cut, pop, and drop, do it, restart, and the cycle is formed. I was also able to pop “Tummy Teaser,” which tasks you with getting Om Nom to open his mouth 10 times in a row in one of world 1’s basic levels, using a piece of candy on a single rope and having it swing back and forth in front of the teeny green beast for a bit. Strange enough, the Internet said this could only be done later on, in the full version. So this just proves my amazing prowess.

But yeah, ringing these twelve levels dry for Achievements with the music turned off and something else occupying my ears was the most fun I could come up with for Cut the Rope, seeing as the gameplay didn’t hook me enough to purchase the rest of the levels. I ran into this problem before with Can You Escape, also from the Windows Store, so I have to start being a little more critical in my downloading decisions because something labeled free might not always mean complete. That said, let the countdown begin until I inevitably grab Cut the Rope 2, which, in its description, says this:

SWEET! Cut the Rope 2 has arrived and you can enjoy the full adventure for FREE!

Uh huh. Sure.

Not all monsters are human in Resident Evil: Revelations 2

You might notice an unsettling trend of late here at Grinding Down, with me playing some games that fall into the horror slash survival horror genre. Please note that I didn’t say slash fiction. Rather, things like Outlast and the first chapter of Bendy and the Ink Machine. Not my usual go-tos for fun gaming times, but that’s okay. I’m both trying to diversify what I play as well as get through these experiences to delete or uninstall them with the knowledge that I gave them a fair shake, no matter how much I hated sneaking around in the dark like a total wuss. Naturally, the majority of horror games in my collection are freebies, with the last one I actually deliberately payed money for being…well, probably Silent Hill 3. Perhaps this is all building to finally digging into that amusement park nightmare.

First, a quick history of my, well, history with Capcom’s long-running, zombie-shooting, ammo-conserving, ruby-finding-and-using-as-a-key Resident Evil series. Don’t worry. Just like with Mega Man, I haven’t found myself playing many of these games over the years. I wonder if I secretly have an unconscious dislike for the company; I mean, yeah, they made Breath of Fire III, Star Gladiator, and Zack & Wiki, all of which I enjoy, but their more well-known series, including Street Fighter and Dead Rising, are just not my bread and butter. Mmm butter. Moving along, I most definitely played the original Resident Evil on PS1, as well as rented Resident Evil 2. I believe I watched my childhood best friend go through the majority of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Because I couldn’t handle something chasing me constantly. I tried the demos for Resident Evil: Revelations and Resident Evil 5…and that’s it. You’ll notice that I’ve never touched Resident Evil 4, which many claim to be the star of the series. Oh well.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is, from what the Internet says, set between the events of Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, which, if you read the previous paragraph, means absolutely nothing to me. However, it does follow two classic characters from the series’ past: Claire Redfield and Barry Burton. In the opening scenes, Barry’s daughter, Moira, is kidnapped alongside Claire, by a mysterious woman calling herself the Overseer. They end up imprisoned on a severely isolated island where, naturally, dark and terrifying scientific experiments have gone from wrong to oh so worse. In this first episode called “Penal Colony,” the narrative jumps back and forth between those two exploring the compound and a second story thread six months later as Barry comes to the island to find Moira. He is accompanied by a young girl with mystical powers because why not.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 remains a survival horror game, and that means trying not to die by the bloody hands of zombies (and other monstrosities), as well as scavenging for ammo and key items. However, this one supports cooperative gameplay. One player is the hero, using guns and melee weapons to get the job of murdering zombies done, and the other player is more there for support, shining a bright flashlight in enemies’ eyes, throwing bricks, or spotting hidden items in the environment. The flashlights in this game are much better than Outlast because they have eternal batteries, thank the Maker. I played the game alone, which meant I had to control both characters, flipping between them when necessary with a simple button press. It’s fine when solving puzzles or generally exploring, but you have to stick with the fighter for combat, otherwise it’s downhill from the first bite.

A couple nitpicks because I am who I am. First, when you are controlling Natalia and carrying a brick, when you go through a door from one location to another, she doesn’t take the brick with her; Barry of course carries his entire arsenal of firearms through, but you then have to scrounge around for another brick to throw. Seems like an odd limitation. Second, I like to crouch-walk a lot in stealth games and, again, when moving between a door to a new location, even if you are crouching, the game doesn’t remember this, and you are now back to standing. This also goes for having your flashlight on or off. Basically, all your “presets” go back to the defaults in each new room, which is annoying. Lastly, since this is a co-op experience and I don’t have anyone to play with, relying on the AI is pointless, as Moira rarely shown her light at enemies and Natalia stayed hidden during all fights involving Barry. I believe you can upgrade some skills to allow for better AI, but I’m also sure having another living, breathing player controlling them is the best way to do it.

Honestly, I thought that I’d play Resident Evil: Revelations 2 to see what it had to offer, quickly run through it, delete the infected file from my Xbox One, and then move on to something else. That is not the case. The game actively encourages replaying, with new modes to try out–like being timed or dealing with invisible enemies or a score attack–and you can continue earning BP to spend on upgrades, which ultimately can help with your next run. Naturally, I want all them collectibles, as well as to try out the Raid Mode, which is a type of “run and gun” mini-game where players fight through short stages to reach a goal and level up their characters and equipment. The mini-game itself exists as a scenario where the Overseer is testing the new Red Queen Alpha program on the player, who is a test subject for it. Sounds neat, at least.

All that said, I don’t think I’ll be grabbing any of the other episodes for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 just yet. I have a couple other titles in the series from PlayStation Plus–specifically Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, of which I know nothing about them–that probably deserve some attention. But before I get to them, I have to replay Barry’s chapter a few more times to grind for gems and pop that stealth kill Achievement, among other tasks.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Mega Man X

games I regret parting with Mega Man X

Mega Man X, as far as I can remember, is the only game in Capcom’s long-running and blaster-charging run-and-jump action series where an innocent-looking robot boy obliterates rogue worker automatons that I’ve beaten. Granted, I haven’t actually played all that many, and that’s mostly because they are challenging gauntlet runs that punish more than they reward. Still, back when I was younger and only had so many games to play and few IRL distractions, practice made for better attempts, and I eventually saw credits roll on Rockman’s first appearance on the Super NES. I absolutely know that getting all the capsule upgrades played a big part in this accomplishment. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have gotten past Chill Penguin. Sick frost burn.

Do you know Mega Man X‘s somewhat maturer plot? If you do, congrats. You can skip ahead two paragraphs. If not, allow me to summarize. Dr. Light created Mega Man X, commonly known as just X, years after the original Mega Man series, with a key difference: the ability to make his own decisions. However, Dr. Light was not completely blind and thus recognized the potential danger of this model, sealing X away in a diagnostic capsule for over 30 years of testing. X’s capsule was uncovered by an archaeologist named Dr. Cain almost a hundred years later. Excited by the possibilities X presented, Dr. Cain disregarded Dr. Light’s notes and warnings and created a legion of new robots that replicated X’s free will–Reploids.

Unfortunately, a virus spread and caused these Reploids turn deadly against humans. Shocking, I know. And so these Reploids became dubbed Mavericks, which lead to the formation of a group called the Maverick Hunters to combat them. Because what else are Maverick Hunters gonna do, y’know? Anyways, the Maverick Hunters were originally led by Sigma, the first Reploid created by Dr. Cain, until it also turned violent and declared war against humans. X joined the Maverick Hunters under its new leader Zero to save Earth from total evil robotic domination. It’s a story much more complicated and involved than the original NES games, which, as a young man with a blossoming brain and beginning to dip his toes in things like anime, I enjoyed greatly.

Mega Man X introduced a lot of new elements to the series. Like the Central Highway Stage, which is basically a tutorial level that allows players to get a feel for the game before setting out to stop the usual kill list of eight named bosses. It is in this level you are first taught how to dash along the ground, cling to walls, and wall jump, as well as dashing and jumping simultaneously, increasing X’s speed in the air. These modifications give X far more mobility than in previous games, which, often required precious timing and accuracy, especially when trying to jump from vanishing platform to vanishing platform. I don’t remember if I played Super Metroid before or after Mega Man X, but the wall-jumping is much easier to nail in the latter.

Besides gaining new weapons after kicking the metal butts of every robot leader, X is also able to upgrade parts of his armor, such as his helmet, boots, arm cannon, and chestplate. These are found in hidden capsules, and they are, as far as I can recall, fairly well hidden, save for the first one, which you have to stumble across for story purposes. X can also charge up the weapons he takes from defeated bosses, giving him a secondary fire mode. More options equals more fun, and some levels even feature alternate paths. Also, completing certain stages ahead of others will subtly affect the battlefield. For example, if you clear Storm Eagle’s aircraft carrier stage first, Spark Mandrill’s power plant stage will suffer from electrical outages.

And now, for everyone’s enjoyment, a list of the bosses in Mega Man X, which, at the time of its release, I thought were beyond cool, but now see that as simply uneducated madness:

  • Chill Penguin
  • Spark Mandrill
  • Armored Armadillo
  • Launch Octopus
  • Boomer Kuwanger
  • Sting Chameleon
  • Storm Eagle
  • Flame Mammoth

Actually, I still think Launch Octopus is pretty killer. We can blame that on Kojima and Decoy Octopus, I guess. Pretty much any combination of [cool word] plus octopus sounds fantastic. Like Fugazi Octopus. Or Mozzarella Sticks Octopus. See–works every time.

Giant Bomb is currently working their way through the Mega Man games with their premium video series Blue Bombin’, and I’m not sure if they’ll be playing the Mega Man X series of games, but here’s hoping they at least give the first one a chance as it certainly switched some things up for the little blue boy who could. I’ll always remember it fondly and wonder why on Earth I thought it was a good idea to give away this classic SNES cartridge (plus original packaging and manual) for a few measly bucks towards an original PlayStation 1. Sigh.

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.

Someone needs to push the reset button on Reset 1-1

Reset 1-1 is just one of the handful of games I got back in early January 2017 when I plopped down some digital cash on the Steam Winter Sale. It was bundled with a group of similar-minded, indie action platformers, the kind that ask you both to make jumps as well as damage enemies in your way. Of them so far, I played Dungeon of Zolthan and found it pretty enjoyable, challenging, and quick despite its minimalist look and goals. Reset 1-1 was next on the to-do list, and I began liking it a lot, eating up its quirky sense of humor, bouncy soundtrack, and stamina-driven combat. Alas, I’m now actively against the thing. Don’t worry, dear readers–I plan on telling you why.

Developer xXarabongXx describes Reset 1-1 like so:

The world has ended, Demons have risen to conquer the uninhabited and flourishing nature outside. It’s your turn, with your unknown identity, to find your path for a new beginning.

For those not aware, my day job is editing. I read a lot and am thus quickly able to suss out when an author has no idea what they are talking about, but need to have something down on paper to show that they are clearly alive and involved in the project. That is what I’m getting here: a bunch of keywords loosely connected to each other that, hopefully, comprises something of a story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, but I guess many aren’t coming to Reset 1-1 for its wondrous plot twists. Still, a little more work could have been put towards this. A little more defining. Here, I’ll even do the developer a solid and provide a better description at no cost whatsoever:

Demonic forces have taken over the world. It’s up to you to discover who you are, defeat evil, and create a new start.

Sure, it still sounds like a generic mess, but I don’t have much to work with. There are hints of story and character development early on, with our pixelated tiny hero not knowing his true identity (is it John of Jhon?), but that doesn’t seem to last longer than the introductory levels. Each boss you come across has something quick to say before the battle ensues, but it is usually of the “I’m going to kill you” ilk. Other than that, this is more about action, with a focus on nailing tough jumps and effectively managing your stamina, especially during boss battles.

In terms of gameplay, Reset 1-1 is a platformer. Think Fez, but less puzzles, more fighting. I guess Cave Story is a better comparison, especially in the graphics department. You run, you jump, and you throw projectiles at enemies by swiping your sword in their direction. Our hero can also roll, and much of his actions are dictated by a stamina bar that quickly depletes. As you progress and defeat bosses, you gain experience points to level up, and you can pick either more damage, more health, or more stamina as an upgrade. There are also different swords to find, as well as single-use health potions to hold on to dearly or, if you are like me and playing with a controller, accidentally hit the X button to use it when most definitely not needed (I was trying to open a door). Speaking of controllers, plugging an Xbox 360 controller in works, but does not work well, as I found the game immediately laggy; however, the standard PC controls are even funkier to get a grasp on so it was this or nothing.

So, I got to the final boss fight in Reset 1-1 last night. It’s some kind of weird ghost-thing that throws fireballs and summons a wave of them up from the lava below that you need to carefully time two rolls to make it through alive. I can’t beat it, and each attempt is more difficult than the previous thanks to this game’s sinister system of upping the difficulty, slowing down the frame-rate, and dissolving color from the graphics with each subsequent death. It is extremely difficult to now see throw projectiles, and jumping with lag is as much fun as you can imagine. Unfortunately, it seems like I’m just digging myself into a deeper hole, and there’s no way to start this final fight on equal ground. More annoyingly, I got the Steam Achievement “Tales of creation and destruction” upon meeting this big baddie, but there doesn’t seem to be one for kicking its ethereal butt or even finishing the game.

On Reset 1-1′s title screen, there are four options–play (continue), reset, options, and quit. For some reason, my brain shrunk in size and strength, and I clicked “reset” thinking that this would reset the fact that I had died so many times that everything moved like quarters through molasses, but kept me there at the final boss fight, refreshed and ready. Naturally, this instead wiped my entire progress. Granted, it only took me about an hour to get to the end area, but still. Time lost. Grrr. Sure, I could go through Reset 1-1 again, but knowing that I’d get to the end boss and only have so many viable attempts early on before I found myself drowning in my own mess is a whole new level of stress that I’m not interested in handling. A shame, as I was nearly there.

007: Agent Under Fire stars a boy and his toys

007-agent-under-fire-gd-impressions

I’m pretty sure that I owned a James Bond game for the PlayStation 2 way back when, but I don’t think it was 007: Agent Under Fire. Might have been 007: Nightfire. This probably explains why there’s no entry for it in the Games I Regret Parting With tag. My memory on this is fuzzy, which I don’t think is surprising for a series that is constantly changing who portrays the main hero every few installments. In case you were wondering, I’m all about Idris Elba playing the next 007. Or Rosamund Pike. Either works great for me though I think Daniel Craig is more than perfunctory. All I really remember about this blurry action game from my past collection is crawling through ventilation shafts and using a technical watch-like gizmo to shoot laser beams at locked doors. So far, in 007: Agent Under Fire, Bond uses a cell phone to do this.

Anyways, I ended up getting a copy of 007: Agent Under Fire for real cheap back in February 2015. Now that I have taken out Final Fantasy IX‘s fourth and final disc from my PlayStation 1, I needed something to fill the void. By void I mean the empty space inside my console, not my heart. I wanted something ideally much shorter than another of my desperately lonely yet time-consuming JRPGs–sorry, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, Radiata Stories, and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, you’ll just have to wait a big longer–and figured this was a good fit, featuring a numbered set of levels, a multiplayer mode that I suspect I won’t be able to play at all due to a severe lack of IRL friends (unless bots are allowed), and nothing else. Let’s start bonding.

007: Agent Under Fire‘s plot is classic international espionage, to the point that, without writing any more words, you could probably guess it wholly. Need some help? Okay, I’ll budge. A major corporation has stolen data that will enable it to clone people, with grander plans of taking over the world by replacing those in important positions. Naturally, this can’t and shouldn’t happen, and in comes Bond–James Bond, that is–to nearly single-handedly destroy the threat of everyone looking the same. He does get some help from series staples Q and M, as well as CIA agent Zoe Nightshade. Don’t get her confused with one of Atlas’ daughters from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series like I initially did.

I immediately struggled with the controls. Remember, this came out in late 2001, a time when every game from the first-person shooter genre was not created from a recognizable and well-accepted blueprint. I imagine that if I went back to things like Killzone or Red Faction, I’d also have the same problem. Thankfully, you can pick from a bunch of different controller schemes, and I found one that was much more in sync with modern layouts. Still, I stumbled here and there when trying to switch between a weapon and a tool, which are separate from each other, kind of like in the Metal Gear Solid series. I tried looking online to find a scan of the PS2 manual (my purchase was just the disc), but only came upon the ones for the original Xbox and GameCube releases; please trust me when I say that the default setup is more evil than Auric Goldfinger, Francisco Scaramanga, and Sir Hugo Drax combined.

Okay, okay, a part of me couldn’t let this issue rest, so I snapped some high quality photographs last night with my cell phone so everyone can see the difference I’m talking about. Here is the default setting, with, yup, “alt fire” on the select button and “crouch” using a trigger:

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And here is what I went with instead to have it line up more with a modern first-person shooter, though it is a far cry from perfect:

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Unlike many other videogames constructed around our titular leading man, 007: Agent Under Fire doesn’t correspond to a movie of the same name. It is its own thing, and that’s fine. It does try a little too hard to be mistaken for something of a similar quality, but I can ignore its attempts to throw a heavily polygonal woman at Bond to up the sexiness because the action is quite fun, as well as forgiving. Also, Bond is clearly modeled after Pierce Brosnan, but missing his voice. Aiming is tricky, but this isn’t Call of Duty multiplayer, so you can take your time to set the gun’s cursor just right before pulling the trigger, and it helps that enemies don’t mind standing still for all of this. Many might not enjoy the moderately mindless combat, wanting more strategy and challenge, but I’m mostly concerned with having fun and looking cool while doing it. Speaking of that…

Bond Moves. Besides being the title of 007’s eventual book of pick-up lines and dance regimes, these are specific moments in every level that has Bond doing something cool, followed by the classic bah-dah-ba-bum zinger we have all come to know and love and a 007 symbol in the corner of the screen. EA clearly paid a premium for this bit of music, to the point that your ears will be bleeding by the end of any session from a bombardment of Bond music. It’s good and bad, and some of the Bond Moves are laughable in executive. Imagine lowering a crane to hop across a gap and hearing that iconic tune. These things, as well as other stats, like damage taken or secrets found, go into a final rating score at the end of each level: bronze, silver, or gold. A gold rating will reward the player with a perk/weapon for the campaign or multiplayer mode, as well as place 007 tokens throughout. To get a platinum rating, you must now earn the gold rating again, as well as collect all the tokens. I acquired a couple gold ratings for the early levels, which earned me things like the Golden Gun and Golden Accuracy.

007: Agent Under Fire is not a great or even good game, sitting somewhere between mediocre and slightly better than mediocre, but it’s exactly what I want right now. A more determined player could plow through all the levels–some of which are driving sequences or on rails–in a single evening, but I’m nibbling away at this sub-par linear action game, making it last longer than necessary. I do believe a haiku is right around the corner as I only have four more campaign levels left to see unfold. For now, I’ll end this post with a Die Another Day quote–“I’m checking out. Thanks for the Kiss of Life.”

Minigames that deserved more of my time

xenosaga-card-battle-minigame

It’s bad enough that there are somewhere in the upward hundreds of games in my never not growing collection that I haven’t touched and probably won’t for a good while, but then there are more than a handful of videogames with smaller games inside them that I have only skimmed the surface of, unable to devote more time to them, with my core focus on seeing the bigger picture draw to a close. I just hit this very moment in Night in the Woods with the game’s small yet mighty pixelated dungeon crawler Demontower, which is clearly taking cues from Dark Souls and requires a lot of focus to be successful in.

These are commonly called minigames, and some of them certainly dance on the edge of mini and major. I’m not here to argue semantics, nor am I referencing those slivers of gameplay in the Mario Party series. I’m here to dream a little dream, one where I get to dive oh-so-deep into these things, as many of them are definitely large enough to lose a good chunk of life and time into.

So here’s a bunch of minigames that truly deserved more of my precious hours, and I don’t know if they’ll ultimately ever get that pleasure. Spoilers and no surprises from me on this reveal: two of them are card-based.

“XENOCard” from Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht

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Sometimes I think I want to write about Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht simply so I can use its full title. It really is a beautiful thing. The sequels, which I alas do not own and probably never will due to their steep prices on Amazon, up the ante immensely. Really, look now: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. My oh my oh my.

Anyways, in Xenosaga Episode I, besides getting hot e-mails and a robot lady to battle by your turn-based side, you can play a card game called, as far as I can tell, Xenocard. The goal is to achieve victory by forcing your opponent to run through his or her entire deck, leaving them with no remaining cards. You can attack your opponent’s deck in a number of ways, forcing him to lose cards. At the same time, you must take protective measures for guarding your own deck from quick depletion.

It’s surprisingly complex–I mean, just look at the interface layout above–and not too different from things like Magic: The Gathering though I never got too far into the game to play a whole bunch because, for those that don’t know, there’s a lot of long cutscenes to sit and watch and not interact with, and so I most likely put this aside for something a little more engaging. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of…Lost Jerusalem (Earth). Maybe.

“Insectron” from Rogue Galaxy

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Man, did I love Rogue Galaxy. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s a Level-5 JRPG from the PlayStation 2 days that does all the Level-5 things you now come to expect of the company, and it’s a fun, often silly, sometimes serious, take on all things Star Wars. However, I spent far more time feeding items and weapons to a magical frog-thing to make better gear and creating Rube Goldberg machines in the factory than I did with the game’s “Insectron” minigame. Insectors are small insects that you can catch at various places throughout the galaxy. Basically, this universe’s version of Pokemon, but buggier. The purpose for catching them is to make a team that can win battles against other opponents at the Insectron Stadium.

There are two parts to this massive sinkhole. First, you have to collect the insects. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an Insector is random. You have to find a good location, place traps or cages, fill them with bait, and then wait until you hear a specific sound indicating something’s happening. If you want even better Insectors, you’ll need to invest serious time into breeding. Next, you can begin to raise your collection, upping their ranks and feeding them special items to grow specific attributes. You can see the seeds of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s familiars here.

Once you are satisfied with your team of Insectors, you can start battling. The battles at the Insectron Championship are done tournament-style. Win five matches to advance through one rank, then rinse and repeat. Insectron matches are 5-on-5 battles, and one of your team’s five Insectors is labeled the King. If you defeat your opponent’s King, you win. However, the Insector designated as the King is limited to only moving one space at a time. I think I attempted a few battles, but, having only used a sliver of the untrained Insectors I did manage to catch, did not get very far in the tournament and left the whole thing behind to see Jasper Rogue’s story draw to conclusion.

“Triple Triad” from Final Fantasy VIII

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2016 was the year that I finally saw Final Fantasy IX from beginning to end. To do this, I had to sacrifice the desire to go after every side quest, as well as the dream of being the legendary best Tetra Master player in the world. This meant I mostly just collected the cards and moved on with the adventure. I also ignored other minigames in Final Fantasy IX, such as Chocobo Hot and Cold and finding all those medallion coins. It’s fine; I’m fine. That all said, of the handful of Final Fantasy games I’ve played, I think I’d prefer to go back to Final Fantasy VIII and study up on all things Triple Triad, if given the time.

In Final Fantasy VIII, you could go up to a random NPC, press the square button, and maybe find yourself in a card game. As always, the goal is simple: capture as many of your opponent’s cards as possible by making sure you place higher-ranked cards adjacent to an enemy card. Easy enough, but the rules are what make this game deceptively tough and addicting, especially considering those rules can change depending where you are geographically in the game. More or less, it’s a modified version of Tic-Tac-Toe, played on a 3×3 grid. Players take turns placing a card down, and each card contains a “compass rose” of four different numbers (1-9, with “A” representing 10). Higher levels contain higher numbers, and these stats determine whether you’ll take the adjacent enemy card as your own or lose to its strength.

I remember wanting to simply collect all the character-specific cards, but then realizing I’d have to risk a lot of my collection to get them. Big ol’ boo to that. Also, the fact remains that disc 3 from my PlayStation 1 retail copy is still gone, given to a “friend” to borrow and then move away with, so I’ll never acquire that full digital collection of friendly faces like Selphie Tilmitt and…well, really, there’s only room for Selphie in my heart. Maybe Quistis Trepe. Evidently, you can play Triple Traid on some smartphones, but probably shouldn’t.

“Spheda” from Dark Cloud 2

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I think about this fact from time to time: despite getting to the last chapter, I have not yet beaten Dark Cloud 2. This probably needs to be remedied at some point, but I don’t know what is more daunting–loading up my years-old save and having a forgetful go at it or starting over fresh. I mean, yeah, I did miss a few photo opportunities early on during some boss battles. Well, I’m not here to talk about that, though it is just one of a few minigames or side activities you can take on in Dark Cloud 2, brushing shoulders with fishing and rebuilding towns, as well as Spheda.

What is Spheda? Glad you asked. It’s basically playing golf to repair time distortions. Mmm-hmm. You read that correctly. In short, the only way to fix these time distortions is to get a colored sphere back into the distortion hole, and you do that by whacking it around a cleared-out dungeon like you are playing mini-golf at the boardwalk during the summer. Except you do want to go off the main path and bounce the ball around corners. Each time a distortion is successfully closed, you’ll get a treasure chest containing valuable items. In addition, the player receives a medal, which can be traded to Mayor Need for, you guessed it, other items. Yay for items.

I’d have to load up my save to confirm this, but I think I was successful on one–and only one–round of Spheda. It’s hard. You only have so many shots to get it into the time distortion, and the dungeons are long and windy, with many sharp turns. I remember hitting the ball to be no easy task either, considering this is a JRPG and not a golf simulator. I wonder if I’d have more patience now to learn the ins and outs of this or if the loot is even worth all the effort.

“Cops and Robbers” from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves

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I believe I played “Cops and Robbers” exactly once, with an ex, while waiting for my father to arrive for a visit. Because I used to document my life extensively, I can tell you it was around the time of this comic strip. The objective of this minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is simple: get five points. One player controls Inspector Carmelita Fox, and the other steers that sneaky devil Sly Cooper. There’s only one map to play on, in Venice. Basically, Carmelita gets a single point every time she takes out Sly, and Sly gets one point every time he takes out Carmelita, as well as one point for every piece of loot he retrieves and takes to a designated drop-off area. Clearly, Sly has more options, but all Carmelita has to focus on is zapping him with her shock pistol.

To mix up the fleeing and pursuing, floating stars are sprinkled around the main section of the city. These provide either character with a power-up that can be used one to five times before a meter depletes. Each player has access to a compass that reveals where your opponent is. I remember it working well, though I have stronger memories tied to the mode where you are flying biplanes around. Oh well.

There’s also a whole treasure map aspect to eat up, which allows Sly to utilize clues, such as “stand before the statue’s gaze, to begin your walk along the treasure’s maze,” that eventually lead to the objective, which in most occasions is treasure. It’s fun and gives me confidence that I could probably star in a remake of The Goonies if asked. No one’s going to ask.

Well, that’s all I can come up with at the moment though I guarantee I’m missing other standout examples. Like “Feitas” from Suikoden V. And “Tombstones” and “Rage Frenzy” from Rage. Grrr. See, told you there’s plenty more.

Anyways, what minigames did you only barely touch and regret not fully experiencing? Well, maybe regret is too strong a word. Either way, tell me about them in the comments below. I want to know.