Category Archives: purchase of the month


As of late, I’ve been craving some old-school style action platformer action first fed to me by games like Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, and Ratchet and Clank. Alas, the Xbox 360 is not really a great home to these kinds of games. It prefers shooters and…uh, shooter hybrids? Seems to be that way. Which is a shame. It’s not a dying breed, it’s just one that hasn’t gotten a lot of platform support (mind the pun there). For a bit, I really thought I was gonna be at a loss on what to look for…

But then I remembered playing the demo for a kid-friendly wee game called Mini Ninjas. And I had a fun time with it! I concluded my demo impressions then with the point that I’d not buy it if it retailed for $60.00, and unfortunately it did at its release time. Too pricey for my skin. But I’m a patient hobbit, and waiting is what I do best. Stopped by the local GameStop tonight after getting very depressed about packing up all my shtuff and got a used copy for $20.00, which is a much better dealio. The clerk though never heard of the game and had me repeat it for him like so:

GameStop clerk: Mini…Ninjas?
Me: Mini…Ninjas.

So far, I’ve played through the tutorial level and first level which has you rescuing a female ninja from a cage. The gameplay is varied and fun, and I get a kick out of putting on that huge woven hat or using it to float down a stream. The controls are solid, and I am kind of paying attention to the storyline…not really. Something about missing ninjas and an evil dude? Oh, and you get to collect plants to make items. Every game should have alchemy in it. Every. Single. Videogame. Yes, even you, Rock Band. Right now though I’ve more or less played the same parts that I got to play in the demo version and am looking forward to new terrain and troubles.

So far, Dragon Quest IX is fun and familiar

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King…just scrunched down for the Nintendo DS. There, I said it. Y’all were thinking it. But I put it to e-paper.

At least, that’s my first impression of the game. I’ve not gotten very far, but the music, the graphics, the battle system, the character models, the church menu, the story progression, the towns, the skill trees, the everything–it’s right there with DQVIII. That’s not a slight. I love and loved DQVIII despite never beating it; I got the game back in late 2005 shortly after it released. I had just moved out of my parents’ house to an apartment in North Jersey for my first post-college job. Since money was tight then, I decided not to get cable/Internet for the first three months. Suffice to say, I saved some money and read a lot of books and played my PlayStation 2 every chance I could. DQVIII helped with this.

A massive world, lush colors and graphics, a steep learning curve, lots to do and see, character designs from Dragon Ball mastermind Akira Toriyama, a demo for the much-wanted-at-the-time Final Fantasy XIIDQVIII had it all! And it kept me good and busy.

This all seems to be said-able about DQIX. Everything you could basically do in the previous game, you can do here, just on a smaller screen. In fact, customization is even more developed on the Nintendo DS, with a slew of clothing and weapons to pick from, all of which do affect the way your character looks and fights.

The story so far goes that you’re a Celestian (guardian angel) tasked with protecting humans down below on Earth wherever. Something goes terribly wrong though and you’re cast down with the mortals, stripped of your wings and angelic power. Then you meet some people and get caught up in their quests as you try to journey your way back sky-high. Very religious, even more so than DQVIII was, and some of the writing is too archaic at times, dancing on the edge of ridiculously unreadable. The most I’ve really done at this point is built a team–minstrel, thief, spellcaster, healer–and grinded to get them closer to my main character’s level. Then we defeated a knight terrorizing a local kingdom. Haven’t got to try multiplayer/tag mode yet, but hopefully soon because my sister is also playing DQIX though most likely very far ahead because, when it comes to traditional, turn-based RPGs, she’s a bit of a nut. Gotta catch up. Gotta find time for the slime.

This post is all about LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4

Apologies for the lack of content over the last few days. It’s summer, it’s the holidays, and it’s just not fun for me to update a silly blog when I’m spending time with loved ones, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you Muggles reading this drivel. Oh, I certainly do. You’re the best, even if you’re extremely quiet and reserved. Anyways…

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. I can has it. I left work last Tuesday and immediately headed to my local GameStop. Walked in, eyed the clerk, and cast my spell. “Avada Kedavra!” I shouted, throwing my wallet into his face. He fell over dead, heavy as a bag of rocks, faster than Edward Cedric Diggory could say, “Cho.” Another clerk came out, and this time I thought about what I really wanted.

“Um, do you have LEGO Harry Potter for the Xbox 360?” I asked.

“Sure.” He rung me up, almost in a daze, and then before he could call the cops on me for taking out one of his own, I threw a Stupefy in his face and hurried home. Alas, I had some other stuff to do, so the game just sat on my desk like a letter from Hogwarts, begging to be enjoyed. Finally, after some coffee and Clarkesworld slushing, it was time.

I played the first hour of the game and then, in some sort of crazy fever rush, wrote about it for The First Hour in the very same evening. No idea how that happened. Usually, it takes me a day or two to clean up my notes. Add in how lazy I can get and well…this is a miracle and should be looked upon as such. You can check out my review of the first hour of gameplay for LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 by clicking this very sentence. I know, just like magic.

After that, I had to wait for Tara to come over so we could experience Hogwarts co-op style. We played the first hour again together and have, as of now, gotten to the middle of Book Two. Our next mission is most likely following the spiders into the woods to deal with Aragog. You’d think with an entire weekend we’d have gotten farther in the game, but the castle itself is almost like a never-ending level, with so much to explore and a Metroid-like progression to it. This means you’ll come across lots of spots you can’t access until you have a new ability, such as speaking Parseltongue to get by a snake or the right kind of spell to take out a specific obstacle. It makes retracing familiar ground a treat, and there’s always something new to see or experience or collect.

By far, it’s the best LEGO game I’ve played yet. LEGO Star Wars comes in a close second, but the simple fact that everything you see or interact with is magical allows for a much more fun–and surprising–environment. Hitting a couch in say LEGO Batman might just have it explode into a bunch of studs. Hitting a couch in LEGO Harry Potter could mean anything: seriously, so far, couches alone have done backflips, jumped high into the air, disappeared entirely, swallowed students, and shrunk down to the size of a dustball. That’s what I’m talking about.

Co-op is pretty fun. The camera occasionally still goes wonky, especially during lessons where you’re stuck in a small room, but otherwise it works well when splitting up. One thing Tara and I both really don’t like is that certain spells are lumped together under one spot, meaning if you want to cast a certain one, like where you shrink an opponent’s head or tie him up with rope, you have to wait for it to cycle through to it. Annoying and unnecessary. And since co-op is fun, I’ve decided that’s how I want to play the rest of the game. So, until I see Tara again over the weekend, no LEGO Harry Potter for me. That’s okay. I might go find a cheap game to fill in the gap until then since I’m mostly done with everything else in my collection, save for blowing up an endless stream of white dots in The Saboteur.

Stuff your sorries into a sack

It’s been a rough couple of days in addition to a rough couple of weeks–which will ultimately just be lumped into a rough couple of months in due time–and I just couldn’t find the time or energy to post something at Grinding Down yesterday. Sadly, all I think I’ll be able to post today is this little apology thing, which, I can only assume, is not very exciting to read.

That said, immediately after work today I’m swinging by the local GameStop to pick up LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. It’s my official purchase of the month for June 2010, and I’m excited, even if some reviews I’ve read recently complain about it being buggy; others said it’s more or less Potter perfection. Either way, it’s a game I need, and despite the guilt festering in my heart, I’m going to get it and play it and enjoy it as much as possible. The plan is even to cover the first hour of gameplay for, well, The First Hour.

Fifty-eight minutes to go, and then I’m off to another world, escaping yet again, flick and swish…

Depressed gamer is depressed

Clearly, I’m depressed. Well, it might not be all that clear to you, my silent readers, but to me, it’s beyond evident. I know this because I bought more videogames this week after buying some videogames the previous week, and all I look forward to now at the end of the day is coming home from work and immersing myself in another world. Any world but this one. It could be Nazi-occupied Paris or Pandora littered with skags and psycho bandits or even a fantasy farming game that also houses caves of monsters. It does not matter. So long as it passes the hours until I can pass out and do it all over again, that’s fine.

While getting my oil changed over the weekend, I walked around the mall, finally stepping into GameStop. I just meant to wander, really, but then I noticed they had a “buy two pre-owned games, get one free” deal going on. So I did some searching. I knew that I wanted to get my mother a new Nintendo DS game, and I found Dream Day Wedding Destinations for fairly cheap, but now I needed to more games to seal the deal. Seeing as how I was going to be traveling that weekend (and the next 796 weekends), I decided to pick out two DS games for myself. Still haven’t had the energy to beat The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, and while Picross 3D is fun, it’s not really a story-driven game, just the same thing over and over and over. I needed a little more drive (pun intended, as you’ll soon see) in my games, and I grabbed Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for about $15.00 each, thus picking up Mom’s game for free.

Both games are pretty good so far, but that’s not what I’m here to write about.

Depression. It sucks.

In high school, I handled it with an outburst of creativity, drawing furiously or scribbling in my notebooks ideas that would never come to fruition (like that one about a school of magical centaurs), but getting them down on paper nonetheless. I almost over-created, in some sense, staying locked away in my bedroom and just letting it all out. My small circle of friends quickly dubbed me “a hermit,” further leading to more depression sinking it, and I later turned the tables on them (though they most certainly have no awareness of this) by writing and selling a little short story about a hermit.

College was much harder in terms of depression. I did not like my college experience; I hid it really well though. If you called me a fake, I would not argue. There were dozens of reasons not to get down, and dozens of reasons countering this. I had a hard time dealing with issues of identity and friends, and ultimately turned to rum and booze and drinking my nights away. Sounds like a cliché, but it’s not at all. My PlayStation 2 was always there, but I never really needed it to comfort me. I did find a way to release my creativity via my guitar, playing “open mic” nights at local cafes and such, which was scary and fun and kept me on my toes, but it didn’t stop the bad thoughts from coming.

Now that I’m out on my own and mostly alone during the workweek, I rely a lot on mindless (and not-at-all mindless) entertainment like videogames. They are both a treat and savior to me come the evening, as I don’t watch any TV shows right now, can’t stand anything that I write short story-wise, and am so turned off by drawing that I have to wonder why I even try. Yet videogames are easy. Push the A button, watch something explode, reap the reward. Instant gratification, instant satisfaction. Lots of goals and Achievements and things to obtain, keeping me focused on something. Sure, some videogames let me down now and then, but never in a sense that my chest wants to cave in or that I want to scream at the sky, “Failure!”

What’s really terrible is the fact that I can’t openly discuss the reasons behind this depression. They are heavy and personal, complicated and unnerving, multiple and multiplying, a total dose of mindfuckery, and I can only imagine what this looks like from the outside looking in: hollow, emo whining. It’s not; that much I can assure you. Depression as depicted on TV commercials is not always how it has to be. You can smile through the day and think the worst things on the inside, and nobody would have a clue. You can still play videogames and have a convivial time, and you can still be the saddest hobbit this side of Middle-Earth.

PURCHASES OF THE MONTH: Picross 3D and The Saboteur

Well, I caved over the weekend. Had to pick up something new before May ended, and so I nabbed Picross 3D for a cool $20.00 and a used copy of The Saboteur for $15.00. Yeah, not two games I’d really ever think of pairing together, but good deals nonetheless.

Picross 3D is a unique puzzler that, a bit to my dismay, relies heavily on math skills to solve. Me? I’m no good with the multiplication tables and such. But I’m getting the hang of it despite have trouble on some of the Beginner and Level 1 puzzles. There’s over 350 in the game, and I’ve gotten through about 50 or so at this point. Presentation is nice and unobtrusive, and you can change the game’s overall soundtrack to whatever you want…Latin, twinkly (?), calm. I locked it down on the 8-bit selection. Doot doot doot beet boot…

Also, evidently there’s a commercial for the game. And it shows a group of girls playing the game, having a blast, solving puzzles. Is this being marketed as a girl’s game and easy one, too? I should hope not. I think anyone can play it so long as they have patience.

Oh, and one puzzle solved resulted in creating a blocky dachshund. Tara liked that.

As for The Saboteur, it’s an open-world game set in Paris, France during World War II. Yup, a WWII that is not a first-person shooter. Crazy, right? What it is though is stylish and arcade-like. You play an Irishman named Sean who hates Nazis and ends up in France due to an earlier run-in with the Aryan race. He meets some other fellow Nazi haters, and the plot is on: uh, kill Nazis. Haven’t gotten too far in this one yet, but it seems like there’s a ton of things to see, do, and collect. Looking forward to exploring the world a bit more, but I can already tell that I like the map in black, white, yellow, and red much more than in full color. Once color returns, the game world sort of loses something.

Also, I ended up buying one month of Xbox Live Gold for $1.00 thanks to a spotlight advertisement. I mean, that’s a pretty rockin’ deal and so I figured to give it a shot. Now I have exactly a month to try and get some more multiplayer-only Achievements in some of my games and maybe try out co-op in Borderlands. Will have to plan accordingly.

Either way, that’s it for May. No more purchases until the end of June hits with LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4.

Planning out the next set of purchases

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time and money and videogames. Because, as most of us know, they all go hand-in-hand with each other. You need money to play games; you need time to play games. You also most likely need a job, but the Catch 22 of that is if you have a job, you have less time, but more money.

To be truthful, I have enough money for games, but not enough time, and that therein causes me to feel guilt about buying new games when I’ve yet to get through a good chunk of my collection. I mean, I did toss down $5.00 for six games thanks to the Humble Indie Bundle, and of them, I’ve only played a few hours of Aquaria. Haven’t even touched the others yet. Problem? Problem. Plus, I’m still working on Borderlands, Pokemon HeartGold, playing Dragon Age: Origins a second time, and a slew of other abandoned children.

Right. Chances are I’m just babbling here, but basically, I’m not going to be making a Purchase of the Month for May 2010. Generally, I allow myself to buy one new videogame–often ranging in the $30 to $40 range–each month as a reward for working hard and staying alive. However, I have more than enough on my plate right now, and there’s actually nothing terribly new calling out to me…save for Red Dead Redemption, which a lot of reviews are giving the thumbs up on. Yet…I still do not enjoy GTA IV and think maybe, just maybe, I should stay away. Who knows. I might cave over summer; I’ve always wanted to ride a donkey into the sunset.

I do, however, know with certainty some of my next purchases. And here they are:

  • June 2010: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
  • July 2010: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
  • August 2010: ???
  • September 2010: ???
  • October 2010: Fallout: New Vegas

And that’s really all I know at this point. Nothing else on the radar. Nope, not even Fable III. Feeling kind of meh about it at this point. But I do like having a battle plan and things to look forward to…

Purchase of the Month April 2010: Borderlands

I headed into GameStop after work today unsure of what I wanted to buy for my purchase of the month for April 2010. A Nintendo DS game? Some older PS2 titles? A lot of games have been bouncing around my head lately, and naturally I want to play them all, but price is also an issue with me. Generally, I don’t like throwing over $60+ for a new game (sorry, Final Fantasy XIII), and so after some looking around I saw that Borderlands was specially marked down thanks to tax season for only $39.99. Greg Noe seems to enjoy it, and I trust his judgment considering his favorite game of all time is my favorite game of all time(Suikoden II). OF ALL TIME. Plus, I’m a sucker for just about any cel-shaded game. Hopefully it’s not too fast-paced and overly shooty (not a word), but the RPG elements and tons of loot should keep me satisfied until the cows come home. Can’t wait to play later tonight…

PURCHASE OF THE MONTH: Pokémon HeartGold Version

Okay, this is going to need some explanation.

Ever since enjoying the badunkadunk out of Monster Rancher, I’ve always had a soft spot for creature-raising gameplay. It’s addictive, and there’s a sense of fatherly pride upon seeing one’s little critter grow stronger and more powerful. That said, Pokémon has never appealed to me. I will freely admit that I watched the cartoon show now and again back in the day, mostly as background noise, and therefor know some of the basics of the world, but otherwise…I stayed away.

But then I started noticing a lot of gamers falling in love with Pokémon. Some were my age, some were older. Was I missing out on something great just because I scoffed at it as nothing more than a child’s plaything? I’m actually a very open-minded man hobbit, but I wanted a better consensus on the state of things. I asked via Twitter if there were any Pokémon-fashioned games out there for the Nintendo DS worth pursuing? I got two answers: Bakugan Battle Brawlers and Dragon Quest Monsters. Of them, DQM seemed to be a better fit for me so I headed to the local GameStop over the weekend…

…to purchase Chrono Trigger!

See, while browsing, my eyes get real big and I suddenly see a bunch of games I want to play and quickly forget why I journeyed outside that day. So, seeing that Chrono Trigger was a cool $20 and knowing the sad fact that I’ve only ever played an emulation of it and even then gave up pretty early because I loathe playing games on the computer, I marched up to the counter, ready to make a deal. And then it happened:

Clerk: Hmm, I’m really sorry, but I can’t find any copies. We don’t have any more in stock right now.
Clerk: Did you know that Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver just came out?
Clerk: They’re pretty great.
Me: …tell me…more.

And so, yes, the salesman did his sale thing and got me. In actuality, as silly as it sounds, the Pokéwalker, the pedometer that comes with Pokémon HeartGold, was what intrigued me most. I already enjoy going for walks after work, and now these walks can count double for me: 1) being healthy and 2) leveling up my monsters. Can’t knock a game for trying to get its players to be active.

I’m definitely interested to see if this will get me addicted hard and good, or if I will play for a bit and just find it so-so. I already named one of my fire Pokémon…Balrog, and care for him deeply. So, y’know, that’s good.

PURCHASE OF THE MONTH: Dragon Age: Origins

I was planning on picking up Dragon Age: Origins in January, but got so many great games to play over Christmas that it never happened. So the next plan was to get it in February, which was all well and good, but things got busy, and I only just sort of realized this weekend that there’s not many more days left in the month.

It’s amazingly deep so far, and I’ve only just started, having now completed the Elf Mage origin. The codex is marvelous, the magic is fun, and the voice acting strong. The only part I was surprised about is the…graphics. If you look out over the walls at Ostagar, the trees look absolutely ridiculous as they are basically flat images standing atop a texture-less “field” of brown. Maybe the darkspawn had something to do with that. Yet another reason to hate ’em, right?!

Anyways, it’s definitely my kind of RPG. All the numbers, dialogue options, and inventory managing warms my heart. I hope the mage was a good choice though; the magic spells does seem pretty potent, but there was a couple instances where I got knocked down and had to heal really fast or buy the farm. We’ll see how it all pans out…