Category Archives: randomness

Create your own Dark Cloud geographical landscapes

Back in April 2017, I was tabling at Camden Comic Con, selling my comic wares and keeping an eye out for any videogame-related cosplayers. Alas, didn’t see a single one, but there were several for Stranger Things and Sailor Moon, go figure. That said, a few tables away from me was a business whose name I no longer recall selling retro videogames, and by retro, yes, sadly, I mean PlayStation 2, PlayStation 1, and similar ilk of that time period. Wow. Man, I remember when retro meant Atari; hashtag I’m so old. However, in better news, I was able to reacquire a copy of Dark Cloud for a few bucks, one of the first games I originally got with my PlayStation 2, but ultimately ended up trading in for something else, an action I greatly regret to this day.

One of the PlayStation 2’s first big RPGs, Dark Cloud is a title that challenges players to not only battle enemies and solve puzzles, but also to create geographical landscapes using the Georama system, which limits a certain number of houses and items being placed in the world, as well as NPCs only being allowed in specific spots. The game was the first full-scale production by Level-5, a developer who would quickly go on to make some of my favorite titles down the road, such as Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Rogue Galaxy, and Professor Layton’s London Life from Professor Layton and the Last Specter, among several others. Here, I’ll name two more, just becauseFantasy Life and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Well, in Dark Cloud, you play as Toran, a young boy on an unforgettable journey of rebirth, revival, and hope. Not my words exactly; also, the early marketing for this game claimed this was a “Zelda killer,” which it definitely was not. The game begins as Colonel Flag Gilgister of the Lagoon Empire Army of the East attempts to awaken the Dark Genie, a legendary evil creature, whom Gilgister wishes to use to control the world. Upon summoning the genie, Gilgister orders him to attack the West. However, prior to the attack, Simba, the Fairy King, casts a protective spell around the land, sealing buildings, objects, and people inside magical orbs called Atla. Toran must harness the spirit of those destroyed to rebuild the lands in time for an epic confrontation. You’ll recreate demolished villages by re-building houses, hills, churches, volcanoes, and streams, populating these places with people, and you’ll even be able to control the weather. Ooh ahh.

All in all, Dark Cloud is an action role-playing game played from a third-person perspective, in which the player moves through procedurally-generated dungeons, battling monsters, collecting items, and doing their best to manage a bunch of different meters. This may have been my actual first taste of randomized levels; sorry, Rogue. In these dungeon levels, the player may have the option of entering a separate “back door” area that contains stronger monsters and rarer treasure. Most of the combat involves real time hacking and slashing, along with a lot of stepping to the side, but the player will occasionally “duel” a boss-like enemy, which boils down to a quick time event (QTE); alas, these aren’t all that exciting, but this was the beginning of the era for QTEs.

Here’s one of the two things I greatly dislike about Dark Cloud–while in dungeons, you have both a health meter and a thirst meter. The thirst meter gradually decreases over time, and, when fully depleted, it causes the health meter to begin to decrease. That sucks. To prevent the thirst meter from depleting, Toran must drink water from his inventory or use a small pool found in some dungeon levels. It’s not the most fun thing to keep on top of, forcing you to move through dungeons as quick as possible, almost frantically, which leads me to great dislike number two in the next paragraph…because it deserves its very own paragraph.

Weapons have durability and will, without constant care, degrade and eventually break completely, disappearing from your inventory. How sad and cruel. You can upgrade weapons after they gain a specific amount of experience, infusing them with extra abilities and bonuses, and all of that can be lost if you aren’t careful and continue swinging away at monsters while your weapon teeters on the edge of breaking. Early on, this is a major problem, because you only have access to a couple of weapons, and the mayor will give you one free weapon repair powder each time you talk to him, but only if you don’t have any in your inventory; I have not gotten to the point where I can unlock a shop yet. So my dungeon crawling has gone a lot like this–enter dungeon, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, repair once, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, stop fighting monsters, hopefully find key to get to next floor, run around frantically, leave, go back to town, and stock up on items from the mayor. It’s fine, but not very thrilling, and I’m hoping that the weapon upgrade system becomes something I can really dig into, like in Rogue Galaxy.

Still, I love the Georama system very much in Dark Cloud, which should surprise no one. I mean, my favorite part of the Suikoden series is watching my castle fill up with people and seeing where everyone goes and what they can offer me. This sort of hits the same vibe, with some slight differences. After you acquire enough orbs, you can begin placing houses, trees, and ponds wherever you like (so long as it all fits nicely); for houses, you then have to fill in specific slots with items, such as beds, barrels, benches, and who lives there. I just got a llama for Toran’s home…well, barn area. It’s fun to find the right item to slot in and complete a full structure and then go out and meet your new neighbor.

I’ve never got too far in my original copy of Dark Cloud before trading it in, certainly not far enough to unlock fishing or other people to play as, which I know is in the game thanks to reading its manual. I’m hoping to make a bigger dent now and am excited to watch Norune Village grow at my discretion. Stay tuned for further updates down the road. If I build a road, that is.

Search Anoxemia’s horrific ocean floor for a way out

I purchased Anoxemia at the same time I got Subject 13, and I played it for a bit before quickly losing interest. Both were relatively cheap, in terms of money, and so it didn’t weigh too heavy on my shoulders that I barely gave this a shot. Well, I’m trying to clear up some space on my Xbox One–y’know, so I can download more games I won’t get to right away–and I popped back into it the other night to see if it could hook me. Alas, it did not, and that’s a shame, because I love spooky underwater exploration, and this has that in droves. It’s just not fun to either play or control.

Anoxemia, which, for those that don’t know, is a condition of subnormal oxygenation of the arterial blood. It’s also a story-driven exploration game from BSK Games that puts you in control of scientist Dr. Bailey and his operations drone ATMA. Together, you’ll search the ocean floor as you discover and extract samples from the bowels of underwater caves. However, danger lurks in each passageway, everything from poison drifts to powerful ocean currents, leftover mines from the war, and mobile machines running haywire. Oh, and there’s also the ever-present risk of running out of oxygen. Fortunately, ATMA can help guide you to your destination using a few special tools and upgrades.

Initially, Anoxemia greets you with some stylized 2D drawings with some simple pan and scan animation, which does a good job of setting up the horror-driven story. Here’s a twist though…you don’t really control Dr. Bailey directly, instead using ATMA like a mouse cursor to make him follow along. Your main goal now is to steer ATMA forward and collect oxygen, energy, and contaminated plant samples. This all happens in a 2D platformer-esque fashion, except you are underwater, so everything is slow and swimmy, and there’s a lot of waiting for Dr. Bailey to catch up and perform the desired action. He needs to also dodge water mines, cannons, rocks, and lasers, which is not easy because, again, you aren’t controlling him directly.

The levels are relatively short, but there aren’t any clear instructions on what you are supposed to do. Death comes quick, and there is no checkpointing–at least not where I was early on–so you have to replay the level all over again from the start. Imprecise controls were mostly the reason Dr. Bailey bit the big one. As far as I can tell, you need to collect everything to proceed, while also not running out of oxygen or energy. Or getting hit by laser beams or heat-seeking machines. It’s a pretty tough game, and I think it knows that; throw in the dark, murky visuals, which do look great at times, but often obscure a lot of the environment, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Anoxemia also greatly lacks in giving the player any sense of progression. In any game, whether it is a platformer, an RPG, a first-person shooter, giving players the sensation that they are moving forward, making progress, is key to creating a successful game and keeping people hooked for more. Unfortunately, Anoxemia counters this by providing players with little variation in the maps and activities performed in them. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell when I was moving from one level to the next, and it felt like Dr. Bailey and ATMA were stuck on a ocean treadmill, going through the motions but ultimately getting nowhere. Also, the Achievements don’t provide any clues as to what you can or cannot achieve.

I’ll never know Dr. Bailey’s fate…though I suspect he’ll go through a good amount of torment before his finds the surface and makes it out alive. If that. Me? I’m not a masochist by design, and so Anoxemia has been uninstalled from my Xbox One. Maybe I’ll watch an online playthrough down the road, but for now I’m content with what I know, which is that ATMA moves forward and then, ten seconds later, Dr. Bailey faintly follows; I do not like that.

Everything old is new again in NES Remix

gd nes remix initial thoughts impressions

It’s been said and said before, but I never had an NES of my own growing up. I got started on the SNES–that’s a super NES for those not hip with the gaming language–and a GameBoy for road-tripping purposes. Man, I miss that GameBoy along with my well-played copies of Tetris and Super Mario Land. Anyways, there were a few neighbors that I hung out with and got to mostly watch them play NES titles from the side, and so I ended up missing out on a lot of what many might consider true Nintendo classics. Though I do now also own a NES Classic, which is tiny and cute and needs to see me use it way more, and I have gone back and tried a few of these classics over the years, such as Jetpac, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid.

When word got out that Nintendo was shutting down its Nintendo Club program back in the summer of 2015, I got my act together and spent points that needed spending. You can see what I procured for myself, though obviously this post is going to be all about that NES Remix. ::takes a deep breath:: Right. Here’s everything remixed in this kickoff of Nintendo’s new series, which, as of this posting, is three entries deep:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Baseball
  • Clu Clu Land
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Donkey Kong 3
  • Excitebike
  • Golf
  • Ice Climber
  • Mario Bros.
  • Pinball
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Tennis
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Urban Champion
  • Wrecking Crew

NES Remix is all about changing things up, going from the expected to the unexpected. Most challenges in NES Remix are simply excerpts from these vintage games, involving timed tasks, such as speedrunning, clearing an area without dying, or defeating a certain number of enemies while utilizing a given power-up. They do not start out very taxing, and it’s more about nailing the challenges perfectly in good time to earn stars and 8-bit stamps for your collection book. Stamps that, now thanks to the ice-cold removal of the Miiverse app, are pretty much useless, but whatever…I still like collecting ’em.

However, the remix categories are additionally based on the fundamental reshaping or combination of games, sometimes by blending in more modern graphical features of the Wii U, for a new experience that may even be technologically impossible on an actual NES console. For example: completing a darkened level that is lit only by a spotlight superimposed over the player’s character, navigating on disappearing platforms in Super Mario Bros., or playing a Donkey Kong stage as Link instead of Mario, as seen in the screenshot at the top of this post, challenged by Link’s inability to, y’know, jump over incoming barrels. These are neat and the real draw of NES Remix, even if modders have been toying with this stuff for years; it is fun to see Nintendo’s stab at it.

Naturally, I was more interested in seeing the remixes for games I’m familiar with, such as Balloon Fight, Excitebike, and The Legend of Zelda. Other games, like Ice Climber, the Donkey Kong entries, and Urban Champion, did nothing for me, as I already didn’t know how to play them to begin with. I recently unlocked all the levels for Pinball and immediately cleared them because Pinball is just the best, whether in real life or videogame form. I sometimes lose myself in Kirby’s Pinball Land because, every now and then, you just need to hit a ball with some paddles and earn a high score.

NES Remix is good fun. I don’t want to complete every challenge it throws at me, and that’s fine. I’ll stick to the games I know and appreciate and ignore the oddballs. Still, I have other Wii U titles to get to as I inch closer and closer to boxing up the system and getting a Switch.

I’m sorry, Clanker, but there’s just no saving you

I’m still hiking around in this overpopulated landscape, chipping away at Rare Replay. I got the massive collection of games digitally back in the heyday during E3 for watching some streams via Microsoft’s Mixer app, and it’s been interesting seeing a lot of the games within it because, for the most part, I was never involved in a lot of Rare’s work growing up. This is probably because I never had a Nintendo 64, where the company seemed to shine brightest, and I also never touched a ZX Spectrum, where a lot of the company’s work started, under the divine name of Ultimate Play the Game. So far, I’ve dug deep into Jetpac and Gunfright, noodled around with the ultra difficult Battletoads, and not really touched anything else much other than to pop Achievements for basically opening each game once. Go me.

Look, I’m never not in the mood for a good collectathon, and I’ve always heard good things about the Banjo-Kazooie series. My first and only experience with the franchise was with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on the Xbox 360 some years back, which, while it certainly had a number of items to collect, focused more on customizing vehicles and winning races and building the strangest contraptions this side of New Jersey. Not my forte; I’m no engineer. On a whim, I decided to see what Banjo-Kazooie is truly all about. Turns out–frustrating camera controls and the worst underwater swimming section I’ve ever dealt with, but more on that in a bit. Plus, Jiggies.

Ultimately, Banjo-Kazooie is a mascot-driven platformer developed by Rare and originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It follows the lighthearted story of a bear named Banjo and a bird called Kazooie as they try to stop the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda, who intends to switch her beauty with Banjo’s sister, Tooty. Yes, those are all their real names. The game features nine nonlinear levels where the player must use Banjo and Kazooie’s wide range of abilities to gather jigsaw pieces, along with other collectibles, to get closer to taking on Gruntilda. Along with the jumping and climbing, there’s challenges like solving puzzles, accessing out-of-reach areas, collecting items, and defeating enemies that wish the duo harm.

I was going to initially say it’s mostly mediocre platforming, but than I hit a wall in the game. In Clanker’s Cavern, you have to free him from his chain that is hooked at the bottom of a low pit. It’s a long swim down there and, logically enough, it’s a long swim back up there. Most gamers would agree that water levels suck. Swimming underwater in these levels sucks even more, with the bonus possibility of running out of oxygen to make things even nastier. Clanker’s Cavern is the second level of Banjo-Kazooie that focuses on water, with Treasure Trove Cove being the first, and it contains its own demon in the water. However, in Treasure Trove Cove, you never have to deal with the fear of running out of air. In Clanker’s Cavern, that’s your biggest fear as you swim down to free stupid ol’ Clanker.

Right. At the bottom of this deep underwater pit is a key hooked beneath Clanker’s chain. To release him, you have to swim through the keyhole three times. Seemingly simple, yes, but that’s where they get you. Like I said… it’s a long swim down and a long swim back up, and if you don’t nail swimming through the keyhole perfectly each time, your chance of seeing blue sky diminishes rather quickly. Now, there is a fish called Gloop in the area spitting out air bubbles to give you a bit of a reprieve, but once again, grabbing them takes precision, and that’s not one of Banjo-Kazooie‘s bright spots. The swimming is slow and somewhat floaty, if that makes any sense, and I refuse to try and save Clanker anymore.

Perhaps I’ll just move on to Banjo-Tooie and pray that nothing similar to this level exists in that game; still, I’m sure I’ll find something just as annoying to battle with, but until then, may Clanker continue to be chained up against his will.

It’s completely true that A Good Snowman is Hard to Build

I don’t think I’ve ever actually constructed a full snowman. I’ve made mini versions that were no bigger than a few inches tall on several front stoops, but the real deal just seems like a lot of work, especially once you realize you have to lift those snowballs on top of each other. Our next door neighbors built one last winter in the backward, and we got to watch it slowly melt away, which is always a little depressing. Anyways, snowmen…they are cool, especially if you take the angle that Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame does; however, you won’t find any sickly monstrosities in A Good Snowman is Hard to Build, but every snowman you construct is simply adorable, and there’s even one named Paul.

Right, let’s get to it. For spring is coming. A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is a puzzle videogame created by Alan Hazelden and Benjamin Davis. After searching around on my very own blog here, I see that I’ve played some work by Hazelden in the past, namely a thing called Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes. That’s nice of me. And, in my Twitch Prime list, I have another of his to install and play down the road–Cosmic Express. Anyways, A Good Snowman is Hard to Build was released in 2015 for personal computers and mobile devices, but I only noticed it the other day, again, in my Twitch Prime list, waiting to be installed on my computer. Ultimately, I’m glad I did.

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is, more or less, a bunch of puzzle rooms with the connected theme of building either one, two, or three snowpeople. You do this by rolling a snowball into a large ball, then rolling another into a medium ball and putting it on top of it, and lastly adhering a small snowball as the being’s head; if you do this correctly, you will construct the named snowman and open up paths to more puzzle areas. Graphics are by Benjamin Davis, and they are adorable, even the little monster you control. The game’s original soundtrack is by Priscilla Snow, and it’s calming and quiet, perfect for the background as you rack your brain for a solution.

Now, I won’t sit here and lie to you and say I solved every possible puzzle on my own, as I did have to look up a few solutions online later on, namely for: Willow; Rob, James, and Matthew; and Zoe and Richard. However, I did do the bulk of them unassisted, and it feels great to see your finished snowman. The trick is figuring out how to roll each ball to the appropriate size, and your limits are often dealing with a small amount of space to do this, as well as only so much snow to get the job done. I eventually learned that you can leave the puzzle are and return to it from a different direction, which helped a lot, as did rolling balls in top of each other and then off each other. There’s quite a bit going on in this rather adorable-looking puzzle game.

It’s pretty short; I finished A Good Snowman is Hard to Build in a few hours, in two different sittings. Evidently, after finishing all the main puzzles, you get access to some sort of alternative universe, which I walked around in for a bit, but couldn’t seem to figure out what to do next. Maybe there are even more puzzles to complete. Oh well, spring is coming, and the snowmen will eventually melt away, leaving no trace behind but a small puddle. Maybe next winter.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #16 – Colorful

A blank and white town
Needs its bright colors restored
Just click everywhere

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – King Oddball

They truly named King Oddball appropriately. This comes from 10tons, which you might remember from a previous Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge, one on Sparkle 2. Seems they enjoy making their strange puzzle games, though this one is focused more on physics and destruction than matching colored orbs and finding keys in a fantasy realm. Still, it’s goofy, and I personally love that; give me all the weird gaming experiences out there.

King Oddball tasks you with ending the world with boulders and…well, your tongue. Which is probably as long or longer than a giraffe’s. The titular King swings a boulder back and forth with his tongue, but it’s up to you to decide when to release it and at what angle. If you time the release accurately, you can crush as many targets as possible with each boulder toss. The concept is simple, but it quickly grows more complicated because you only have so many boulders, plus the inclusion of other obstacles can impede your tosses. You’ll need to master King Oddball by anticipating how boulders roll, bounce, and launch from exploding crates. Physics–it’s a good time. Also, make sure you take advantage of collapsing structures.

The overworld map is broken into a three by three grid, so, y’know…nine squares. Each square is its own set of contained levels, often with a theme, such as grenades or dealing with helicopters, and there’s about 15 or 16 levels to conquer before you can move on to the next square. I completed all of the far left three squares and a little bit of the top middle before deciding that I’d seen enough of King Oddball. I was able to jump on the tile that contained my progress statistics, which, if you really wanna know, look like this:

  • Time played: 00:28:17
  • Total throws: 300
  • Levels lost: 55
  • Levels won: 47
  • Foes destroyed: 311

With the main quest progress sitting pretty at 36%, I think I’m okay moving off of King Oddball. It’s quite fun, really, and more than just an Angry Birds clone, which is what I was initially worried about. I probably could plow through the remainder of the game in a few hours, but I’ve got other things to take care of than throwing boulders at tanks, even if it is quite enjoyable, especially when a boulder bounces back high enough to hit the King and you get a free boulder from it.

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.

Returning to The Legend of Legacy for map fulfillment

the legend of legacy tips and tricks gd

I procured a copy of The Legend of Legacy, which is not the most memorable of names when it comes to RPGs and part of me wants to keep writing it as Legend of Legaia, some time back in late 2015. I played for a few hours, but magically lost interest fast, which is a shame because, after returning to it recently for reasons that will be explained later, it’s a pretty good, if ultimately quirky, role-playing adventure with lots to do. Plus, it just oozes style, and I love things that are both stylish and oozy, such as EarthBound, the Suikoden series, and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.

Okay, here are some quick facts. The Legend of Legacy is a Japanese RPG for the Nintendo 3DS, developed by Cattle Call with assistance from Grezzo and FuRyu. The game was published in Japan by FuRyu in 2015 and later localized and published in North America by Atlus USA in 2015. The story takes place on the island of Avalon, where a bunch of adventurers meet up to explore the island’s mysteries. Gameplay focuses on exploring Avalon, fighting enemies via turn-based battles, increasing their abilities based on usage, and filling out maps. From a glance, the game seems inspired by things like SaGa Frontier and Final Fantasy IV. For some reason, I figured I never got around to writing about The Legend of Legacy, but evidently I already did so.

Story-wise, I’m not going to get into it. I didn’t really understand what was happening several years ago, and I know even less now. Sure, I could look up a detailed summary online, but that doesn’t interest me. This is a game of many pronouns, such as Elementals and Singing Shards, and magical gizmos to go after, and that’s all I really need to know. I’m more interested in seeing my team grow in strength, HP, and powers. The Legend of Legacy, in grand SaGa fashion, gives you a brief overview of what to expect and then tosses you to the wolves to figure the rest out yourself, and I mostly care about filling in maps and selling them for a high price. It’s quite satisfying.

There are seven lead protagonists to select from in The Legend of Legacy. There’s Meurs who can speak with Elementals, Bianca who has amnesia, the treasure hunter Liber, Garnet who firmly believes in her religion, the mercenary Owen, Eloise who is an alchemist in search of eternal youth, and Filmia, a frog prince that is in no way related to Chrono Trigger‘s frog Glenn. Ultimately, you can recruit the other six to you party along the way, but the story will focus on whoever you  ultimately chose. For what it is worth, I went with Meurs, who comes across as the classic sort of JRPG hero, and have been using Bianca and Garnet at his sides. They all use a bunch of swords and knives as their main weapons, but I am trying to branch out into other styles, in hopes of unlocking many more abilities and powers. When it comes to turn-based battling, the more options you have, the better.

So, why am I returning to The Legend of Legacy some three-ish years later? It’s because I recently got a copy of The Alliance Alive, which evidently is sort of a sequel to this game. Or, at the very least, carries over many of the core concepts. Also, the scenario was written by Yoshitaka Murayama, noted for his work on the Suikoden series–be still my heart. Yet, before I take on another large-as-heck RPG, despite juggling a bunch already at the moment, I thought I should at least go back to The Legend of Legacy and see if it could hook me for a bit more. It very well might, we’ll see.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Mad Riders

I’m tired of talking about racing games. I already did this recently for BlazeRush, for Monster Jam: Battlegrounds, and for Midnight Club: Street Racing, and…I’m just exhausted when it comes to words describing a game where you race around a course a few times and aim for first place. There is nothing exciting to it; instead, give me a Super Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing, where, sure, you want first place, but there are more creative ways to get there, such as launching torpedoes at enemies or dropping banana peels behind your vehicle to cause some accidents. I understand the purpose of going from point A to point B, over and over again–it’s the shortest route–but it ain’t interesting.

Well, Mad Riders is about off-road racing. Players control an all terrain vehicle, or an ATV if you are down with the lingo, and race against other ATVs around a series of tracks. You can collect coins placed along the way to activate a short boost in speed, and blue tokens allow players to temporarily access shortcuts, though I never found any of these myself. When in the air, players can perform tricks, which also provide a bit of boost so long as you land them safely. Naturally, there are obstacles both on the ground and in the air to avoid. Other than that, it’s lap after lap, all while trying to maintain the leading spot. Cue the uproarious applause from the audience.

Mad Riders features 45 tracks that can be played over five different race modes, including a time trial mode and another where players try to score as many points as possible by performing stunts. Races can be done either individually or as part of longer tournaments, so you have options how you want to spend your time. Naturally, everything, even racing games, incorporate RPG-like elements, so you gain experience points for both completing races and performing stunts, and this glorious trick of XP is used to unlock new vehicles and color schemes. Ya-hoo. The game also has a multiplayer option with races containing up to twelve players, but I didn’t bother trying this, seeing as I’ve had bad luck finding anyone else to play online on many of these older PlayStation 3 titles.

That’s it. I have nothing else to give Mad Riders except a hand-wave and pushing the uninstall button. A-buh-bye.

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.

Alice in the Mirrors of Albion is stuffed with hidden objects

We’ve gone over this before, but I enjoy a good hidden objects game. Give me a list of things to search for, and I’m ready to go. Don’t need a lot of frills or extra time-wasting work. All I want to really do is look at an image crowded with stuff and find the canary, the umbrella, the globe, the oven mitt, and the tiny bust. Thankfully–or maybe not, depending on how you feel–the market is drowning in games like these. For instance, if you look at Microsoft’s online marketplace, the count is mega-high, and that’s where I found Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, a hidden objects game that combines some detective work with Alice in Wonderland‘s fantasy world.

Right. Well, this is the newest hidden objects game from Game Insight, the creators of Mystery Manor, which I have not played. They make a lot of mobile games. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion takes place in a mystical version of Victorian England, fraught with intrigue, crime, and suspense. The biggest story is that Alice–yes, that Alice–has gone missing, and it’s up to you to figure out what happened. Y’know, but only after you examine scenes for hidden objects. You’ll also have to solve puzzles and experience the game’s unique-if-long-winded story by tackling countless quests in your mission to foil the evil machinations of the Red Queen. Don’t be surprised by the addition of mini-games and an energy system; this is, after all, at its core a free-to-play game brimming with ads and a desire to get you to spend real money to speed up timers and accrue special currencies. No thanks.

For a while there, I was playing something called Twilight Town and Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, even though it is made by a different developer, follows almost exactly the same format of those two, plus countless others out there. I’m talking about its use of energy, its focus on completing collections, the overworld map littered with icons and things to confuse yourself on, and the different ways it makes you find items in a scene, be it either from a list or pictures of silhouettes. I wonder if all these developers got together in a room and decided this was the new modus operandi for all things related to hidden objects. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t; for instance, in Twilight Town, I could literally do three actions before running out of energy, but Alice in the Mirrors of Albion has been more kind than that.

So, yeah, it’s fine. I do find it humorous that the story kicks off immediately with Alice disappearing and then things drastically slow down because you have to find keys for so-and-so or a special hat for the Mad Hatter…because, well, the developers needed to pad the game out from the get-go. I’m slightly interested in the story, and the writing isn’t honestly terrible, but many of the missions do feel like filler, and this detective work is only inching its way forward at a snail’s pace while a young woman’s life hangs in the balance. Want to save her right away? Sorry, you’ll need to up your mastery in this one location while also waiting for your energy meter to refill. Look, I’m not insane, I know what this game is and am not expecting Hemingway, but it should be either all in on the story or just scrap it entirely and don’t hide the fact that you are meant to play these levels over and over again.

There’s a character in Alice in the Mirrors of Albion that really gets under my skin. His name is Cheshire, Jr., he’s a cat, but also a part of the police-force. Look, I’m not here to ask too many questions. Anyways, the voicework done for Cheshire, Jr. is some of the most atrocious I’ve ever heard, and it really does make nails on a chalkboard sound like a thousand angels singing. You’d think, with him being a cat, that he’d meow like a cat, but no…instead, he says the word “meow” and draws it out with some extra syllables, because it’s not enough to just make your ears bleed once. If he continues to make his presence known, I may not be sticking around too long for this one.

Wish me luck on continuously finding that fire extinguisher, as they actually do a good job of hiding it in the police office scene. However, if we don’t get closer to learning what happened to Alice, I’ll be saying goodbye quickly to Alice in the Mirrors of Albion.