Category Archives: randomness

Burly Men at Sea is an interactive fairy-tale too big for one playthrough

Burly Men at Sea is a pure delight. I mean that from every angle–graphics, sound, gameplay, narrative, the way it holds you close and keeps you warm and ensures that the world is all right and not so scary, even when scary things, scary beings, show up…after all, they might just be misunderstood. I recently acquired a copy via the Day of the Devs 2018 Humble Bundle, along with Full Throttle Remastered, RiME, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Yooka-Laylee, Minit, and Hyper Light Drifter, all of which I desperately want to find time for to play. I started with Burly Men at Sea for two reasons–one, its general aesthetic speaks to me deeply, and two, it seemed the shortest of the bunch to play. I was kinda wrong about that last part.

This is a folktale mashup available on both mobile devices and PC that came out in September 2016. One might call it an interactive novel, but that’s not giving it proper respect. To me, it’s a whimsical stab at visual minimalism, frolicsome writing, and some seriously disturbing sound effects generated by voices only. Burly Men at Sea was made by husband-and-wife team Brain&Brain and is based on early 20th century Scandinavian folklore. The plot goes as thus: three brothers—specifically Brave Beard, Hasty Beard, and Steady Beard, which are all fantastic names—find a map in a bottle and set off for adventure. Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned, with one disaster leading to another.

In terms of gameplay, interactions are fairly minimal. I played the game entirely on my laptop, using just a mouse. You’ll spend the majority of your time “pulling” the mouse to the right or left to reveal more of the screen, and this will cause the three brothers to walk in that direction. You can also click on things in the background to see them react in fun ways, which reminded me of Windosill. A couple scenarios later involve you clicking and holding on specific areas, but it never gets more complicated than that. The game might actually be better suited for mobile devices, given how you interact with it and how long each playthrough takes, but this is how I experienced it.

So, the really neat thing about Burly Men at Sea is that it kind of never ends. It loops, putting our bearded trio right back where they started. You can go on another adventure, and maybe this time you’ll see some new things or perform different actions. I did a second playthrough immediately and was pleasantly surprised by what I came across, and I’m not going to spoil it for y’all. This game is designed for multiple playthroughs, but it is perhaps better if you take a break between them. Otherwise, you’ll begin to see some of the repetition. The experience itself is calming and cartoony, and the danger never feels like danger, but the tense moments still remain tense as you begin to care for the Beard brothers and think about how to get them out of the various sticky situations.

If Burly Men at Sea were a book, it’d be defined as a real page-turner. No scenario lasts too long, and they flow into each other seamlessly. I found myself constantly smiling at the absurd writing and animations. Speaking of books, each unique playthrough is stored in an in-game library that can be referenced to pre-order a fully-illustrated hardcover version of the adventure. That’s neat, even if it’s not for me. I’ll just stick to repeating this ship-worthy adventure, at least a few more times, to see what I see, to unearth something new along the way. If not for me, then for the Beard brothers. They gotta know.

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Every day is “Demo Day” in House Flip with Chip and Jo

I never used to watch any of the many home renovation shows that are constantly playing on the television channel HGTV at every hour of the day, but then I met Melanie. She turned me on to a number of these shows, such as Love It or List It–I’m always rooting for David, though he seems to lose more often to Hilary, the queen of staging–Property Brothers, and, more related to today’s post, Fixer Upper. I really like the dynamic between Chip and Joanna Gaines; one is more serious, the other a loving goofball, and they pair off nicely when fixing up less-than-stellar homes and taking care of a swath of kids and farm animals.

Well, on a whim, after uninstalling Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery off my phone, I decided to download a game called…House Flip with Chip and Jo, developed by fun-gi and free for all to enjoy. Obviously, there are timers everywhere, and that means special currency–in this case, hearts and elbow grease–so there’s always the opportunity to spend real money on microtransactions, but the game is pretty good about not putting it directly in your face all the time and providing other ways to acquire hearts simply by playing the game. Gee, what a novel concept. My suggestion though is to save up enough hearts to buy a third construction worker, as it will help you do more actions each time you log in.

House Flip with Chip and Jo is naturally all about flipping houses. Chip and Joanna Gaines need your help to explore the world of renovation and design. You’ll assist them to renovate and decorate with a variety of construction and staging skills, discover new houses and architecture, and learn how to buy low and sell high in the cutthroat realm of real estate. You’ll do this in a number of locations, starting with Waco, TX, and then moving on to Kansas City, MO. There are other cities on the map yet to be unlocked, but it looks like you’ll be doing a bit of globe-trotting, moving from Phoenix to Salt Lake City to Seattle and so on. I mean, eventually, Texas is going to run out of homes to flip.

All you really do in House Flip with Chip and Jo is tap, and that’s fine. Most phone games are all tapping. However, when I start a timer to begin staging a bedroom or painting the walls in the bathroom, it’s nice to know that I can either return whenever I want to complete that mission, unlike in games in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery; those punish you if you don’t came back ASAP. Once you purchase a house and finish fixing up all its problems, as well as staging it just right in various themes, such as Mid-Century Modern or French, you can put it on the market and watch the bids come in. Sometimes you might want to reject an offer if you aren’t making a profit, and you can speed up additional offers by spending hearts. I do wish you could flip more than one home at a time in each location, but I get that that’s not realistically feasible for Chip and Jo to do, even in digital form.

However, I do have one major issue with House Flip with Chip and Jo, and it has to do with the in-game depiction of Chip. Look, I know the man has gone through several looks, but the one below just seems oddly off. Like a wax museum statue or something. Just not quite there. Though fun-gi did nail his blindingly white grin; don’t believe me, then check out this quickly Photoshopped image below that I have prepared for y’all:

I kid, I kid. Honestly, I’m having a good time with House Flip with Chip and Jo, and it’s the perfect game to check in on a few times throughout the day, start a bunch of new timers, and watch progress inch forward. I do wonder if I’ll grow tired of doing the same actions as more cities unlock or if there will be new sets of challenges to pursue. Either way, these houses need flipping, and I am the flipper. Well, timer tapper, really.

Every village needs a name, and Tarrey Town is lovely

I loved playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but hated completing it. Not because that meant the game was over and no longer playable–it’s not at all, in fact, as it weirdly drops you back into Hyrule moments before you take on the final encounter so you can fast-travel away though your save slot now shows you completed the final encounter even though you could, theoretically, do it again; it’s a bit messy–but because I found the final fight to be less-than-impressive. Exploring Hyrule at my leisure and taking on what I wanted to take on, in my own way, is where the game shined the most, and the final boss fight seems to be a linear affair, without many options. Also, after it’s done, there’s a pretty short and underwhelming cutscene, and that’s it.

Ultimately, this post is not about that stuff per se, but I’ve been meaning to say something about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since doing the completion thing shortly before 2017 came to a close. I mean, after all, it was one of my top ten games last year, coming in at the number three spot. Instead, I want to talk about houses and building a community of like-minded people and mundane tasks like gathering wood for construction purposes and watching things change. I want to examine one of my favorite tasks to chip away at while I hunted down more shrines and Korok seeds even if I ultimately have not played that much more of the game since seeing credits rolled. It’s something I think about maybe more than I do, for fear of not having it around as an on-going quest. Of something perpetually to see grow.

Tarrey Town is a new town in Hyrule–so new, in fact, that it doesn’t exist until you steer an up-and-coming architect named Hudson to its foundation to begin constructing it. First, however, you must save a house in Hateno Village from demolition at the hands of the Bolson Construction Company. After that, the flamboyant and cool soundmaker boss Bolson that the company is named for transfers Hudson to Lake Akkala and suggests that Link goes and pays him a visit sometime. Sure thing, chicken wing. Upon Link’s arrival, he sees Hudson mining away at a chunk of rock, and Hudson requests that Link help him construct the new town. On it, my friend.

So, obviously, if you’ve been around this blog of mine for some time now, you know I love the Suikoden series. Well, Suikoden and Suikoden II, really. I still haven’t gotten too far into Suikoden III, and my memories of Suikoden V are as faint as a lantern in a field of fog. I love the notion of building a base and bringing people to it, watching it change with inhabitants and become more than just brick and mortar. If I recall correctly, there was even a town-building mini-game called Faerie Village in Breath of Fire III that I got deep into…though I don’t remember all expansive it ultimately was. Also, Mass Effect 2 had you bringing back recruits for your team to the Normandy, and that was good fun.

The quests to bring Tarrey Town to life are somewhat simple and repetitive. It all begins with gathering some wood. Next, you need to find a Goron with a name ending in “son” because them’s the rules. After that, it’s back to gathering more bundles of wood, as well as finding a tailor. Then 30 bundles of wood and recruiting a merchant. Yes, it’s that task again, but I enjoyed cutting down trees and thinking about all the people I’ve met in Hyrule that have a name ending in “son.” After 50 bundles of wood–seriously, we’re running out of trees here–you need to find someone to officiate a wedding, which turns into a really cute scene Hudson and his new wife. After the wedding is did and done, Tarrey Town is considered complete, and you get three diamonds for all your hard work, plus a free inn to stay at. The end results don’t turn it into a bustling metropolis, but it’s still a busy town with people living in it, and it feels so good to know that, without Link, without your help, none of this would exist.

Spoiler zone ahead. While doing some research for this post, I discovered that a secret shop opens on one of the building’s rooftops, and you can purchase some good gear there. This gives me the perfect reason to return to Tarrey Town and see how its folks are doing. Yeah, yeah, maybe I’ll do a shrine or two along the way. That’s just how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild works–you start with one idea, and get distracted by several others. Either way, the world continues to thrive, thanks to you.

An abridged version of Final Fantasy XV that I cannot actually fit in my pocket

For a good chunk of my young adult life, I played every new Final Fantasy game that came out, starting naturally with Final Fantasy VII, then the underappreciated Final Fantasy VIII, and next to Final Fantasy IX, a game I only came around to seeing its conclusion a couple years back. I dabbled in a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy X from a friend in my sophomore year of college, but actually was more focused on schoolwork, dating, and being social than playing videogames. Shocking.

And so it went on, with me skipping out on Final Fantasy X-2 and the online-only Final Fantasy XI. I eventually returned to these hallowed grounds after graduating college, moving into a tiny studio apartment near New York City, and not setting up cable or Internet for a couple months because money was an issue. Thankfully, two games kept me quite busy–Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. This is a lot of preamble just to say that the last recent Final Fantasy game I’ve played was Final Fantasy XII back in 2006-ish and that weird side-scrolling beat-em-up…until now.

Yup, move aside official release Final Fantasy XV, with your mega realistic graphics, hours-long epic plotline, and detailed character models and pictures of food that convince you this world and its inhabitants are worth believing in. Because I’m playing Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, which takes a 50-hour console JRPG and re-imagines it as a 10ish-hour mobile game. Except I’ll add one more wrinkle to the mix–I’m playing this on my laptop, not my cell phone. For this to happen, Square Enix naturally had to murder its darlings, cutting back on story, controls, and graphics to deliver a more shortened and laid-back telling of Prince Noctis’s journey to become king. It actually works though, surprise surprise.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition follows the same plot as the original game, as far as I can tell, but eliminates the open world aspect and many sidequests for a more focused experience. Exploration and combat have now been shifted from a behind-the-back view to an isometric overhead perspective with simplified controls more suitable for playing on a touchscreen…or using a mouse and keyboard, as I am doing. Music and voice acting was mostly kept intact, while the graphics were given a makeover with “chibified” character designs. The game is divided into ten chapters; the first chapter is available for free, hooray, and the remaining nine can be purchased individually or as a whole with discounted pricing.

The combat in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition is more friendly and forgiving though maybe a little uninteresting. When the party enters a fight–no random battles here–the player takes control of Noctis only while his companions do their own thing. Noctis will auto-attack whatever enemy is nearest to him or whatever one you personally select, with opportunities to parry and dodge presented as timed button prompts. As the party gains EXP, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio gain the same sort of special combat abilities they do in the core version, and there’s a skill tree to unlock other perks, such as using magic or enhancing how much damage your weapon does. Noctis himself has a very special ability called warp, jumping from one enemy to another by clicking on that enemy and holding down the mouse button, getting the drop on the unaware. You can also do this outside of combat, to reach certain areas.

Honestly, I enjoyed my free time in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition‘s first chapter, but I’m not hooked enough to drop any bucks on it and see the remainder of the young prince’s plight. The combat feels inconsequential currently, though perhaps it gets more involved later on once magic and summoning show up. Still, it’ll always be a watered down version, and for some, that is ideal, and others not. I still find the idea of a boys’ roadtrip to be entertaining, even if it eventually does the Final Fantasy thing and end up being about saving the world from plunging into eternal darkness.

Harvest Seasons is a dangerously addictive clicker

I don’t play as many clicker/idle games as I did a few years ago, but I still check in on a few now and then, such as Clicker Heroes, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms, and Harvest Seasons, today’s topic du jour. I also have some Office Space-themed thing on my phone that I looked at once or twice, but still haven’t uninstalled for some reason or another. It’s there for emergency purposes, like many of the games on my cellular device. Either way, if built right, an idle/clicker game can be quite relaxing and satisfying or dangerously addicting. So far, that’s how I feel about Harvest Seasons.

What exactly is Harvest Seasons? Well, one, it’s free on Steam. Second, it’s a fusion of many familiar things, such as a farming game, a city building game, and an idle/clicker game. It’s all about harvesting resources and leveling up your individual tiles to, well, create more resources, which will open up more options to increase your farmland’s yield. It’s a cycle of clicking and waiting, but a surprisingly addicting one because there never seems to be a dull moment, as something is always asking for an upgrade and your workers need to continually be kept busy cutting down trees, gathering crops, mining ore, or carving animal skins. Otherwise, you just aren’t growing.

It’s got a good look, heavy on the cartoony pixels, but the graphics are not the star here. They are functional enough. You can also stay very far zoomed out, which I do, as it lets me see more at once than being all up and close. I did have to turn off all the music and sound effects though as they are a little too loud for my sensitive ears, and because I don’t play in full-screen mode I can rock a YouTube video or Spotify playlist instead. Also, some of the font is a little tiny to see, even with my face only inches away from the computer screen. These are minor complaints though because, so far, and I’m still only in the first season of many seasons, I’m enjoying the clicking and waiting and clicking again.

Evidently, Harvest Seasons was lovingly hand-crafted by a husband and wife team, under the name of Bearded Bunnies. That’s super cool. This seems to be the duo’s first game, and I think it has a lot of promise. It’s not about loot crates or forcing you to purchase a ton of boosters with real-life money; instead, it’s pretty chill in letting you go at it however you want. For me, that’s checking in on it at least once a day, clearing out a few requests, focusing on unlocking at least one building or taking on a dungeon level, and then leaving it off for the remainder of the day. You aren’t punished for being away, and I find coming back to it with a ton of things to do to be ultra exciting.

Also, and this is a silly thing, but Harvest Seasons comes packed with over 400 Achievements to unlock. Granted, the majority of them are for reaching generic-like levels of things, such as harvesting X amount of crops or earning X amount of gold, all at different tiers, but it does hit that special spot in your brain to see so many unlocking so quickly. I’ve got about 50 so far, with plenty more to pop.

At some point, I’m going to have to “buy the farm” and do the thing I hate doing in these idle games but understand it is a necessity and start over…with some bonus perks, of course. I believe this is how you move from one season to another in Harvest Seasons. Eventually, you hit a wall where leveling up requires too much time or effort on your part, and your best bet is to start anew, with some enhancements to help get you back to where you stalled quickly. I get why it must be done, but it never feels great, wiping the slate clean. This is why, in real life, I am no farmer.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Atomic Ninjas

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

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

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

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

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Vandal Hearts

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

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

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

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

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