Category Archives: videogames

There’s too much trivial chatter in Batman: Arkham City

Twice a month, I go to my local oncology center, sit in a fairly comfy reclining chair, get hooked up to a machine, and have poison, along with other substances, pumped into my body for three to four hours. It’s not exactly what I’d describe as fun, but it is what I have to do to continue living the life I want to live, a life with cancer. I’m never alone there, and sometimes the room is quiet, with everyone reading a book or listening to music or sleeping, as I’m wont to do, and other times it is just bursting with mindless chatter. Thank goodness for headphones. I tell this story because it actually relates greatly to Batman: Arkham City, believe it or not.

Can Batman just get one moment of peace to look out over Arkham City without having to hear some nearby conversation between Goon #1 and Goon #2? Please, it’s all I want. It seems you can’t go anywhere without picking up a stray conversation, and the majority of them are just fluff, nonsensical, pointless chatter to clog up your ear-holes. Someone somewhere is always talking, and it quickly becomes grating. Plus, there are occasional conversations you do need to pay attention to, such as when a political prisoner is being attacked or threatened, as it is a side quest activity, and parsing those out from the clutter can be tough. I don’t remember Batman: Arkham Asylum having this issue, but a lot of the game was spent in-doors, whereas here you are constantly gliding from rooftop to rooftop via a pretty open world brimming with enemies.

That said, I’ll now talk about the game proper. Written by veteran Batman writer Paul Dini with Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, Batman: Arkham City is inspired by the long-running comic book mythos. In the game’s main storyline, Batman is incarcerated in Arkham City, a huge new super-prison enclosing the decaying urban slums of the fictional Gotham City. He must uncover the secret behind the sinister scheme “Protocol 10,” orchestrated by the facility’s warden Hugo Strange, all while also dealing with a number of other big-name baddies, such as Mr. Freeze, The Penguin, and, of course, The Joker. It plays and feels a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum, but bigger and more explosive, with more things to do.

The same freely flowing combat from Batman: Arkham Asylum returns here and, while it can feel mashy at times, it does also feel purposeful. Batman can dynamically punch, kick, grapple, and Batarang through crowds of tough guys or, if you get the jump on a solo dude, take him down stealthily. Players gifted with superior button-pressing timing and the clarity of mind–in short, not at all me–can also use Batman’s fist and gadget tools to elevate these brawls into something much more. A violent dance, perhaps. Not all of Batman: Arkham City takes place outside; in locked rooms, Batman is a true predator, stalking enemies from the shadows and plucking them off one by one. I’m much better in these scenarios than I am trying to take on eight unarmed enemies and three guys with guns, all while trying to counter here, punch there, dodge this way, leap that way, etc.

At times, Batman: Arkham City has too many distractions, and I even found myself unable to figure out where to go next for the main mission, having veered off to answer payphone calls and attempt to collect some Riddler trophies. I say attempt because, for many of them, they are quite puzzling and seem like they require tools and abilities I’ve not yet unlocked. I do like that you can tag any Riddler trophy you see and it’ll add it to your map so you can return to it later, if that’s something you want to do. I highly doubt I’ll be going after all the collectibles in this one, despite that being a task I love doing in many other games. My goal is to just get through the story and see how things ultimately unfold for Mr. Wayne.

Currently, I’m in a large museum, trying to carefully make my way across a small pond of frozen ice to save some cops from The Penguin. If you are too reckless or take the wrong path, the ice will break, and a shark will eat Batman. Let me repeat that last part–a shark eats Batman. It’s probably the best thing I’ve seen so far in Batman: Arkham City.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge

For some dumb reason, I assumed Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge was a theme park builder. It’s that word tycoon, which made me instantly think of RollerCoaster Tycoon. Silly me. It is most certainly not that. In fact, it’s an RTS, a genre I’m never good at sinking my teeth into, but I wanted to give it a shot so I at least played through the tutorial and first level. Let’s see if this rotting corpse has any life left in it.

Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge begins with Orville Tycoon, former disciple of Professor Brainhov, taking the zombie formula invented by Brainhov and using it to take over the world via shambling hordes of the undead. I’m assuming these characters appeared in the previous game. Orville only acts upon this after Brainhov tests the zombie formula on himself (after a previously unsuccessful test), which actually works, and turns himself into a zombie. All of the levels take place in ruined suburban areas, and the game does a decent job parodying suburbs and southern living. Anyways, Brainhov comes back from the grave and usurps Orville’s mobile zombie base with his more adept feral zombies, subsequently securing his rise back to power. It’s your job to stop him.

The controls take a little bit to get used to, but considering this is an RTS on a console, which means playing with a controller instead of mouse and keyboard, it’s perfectly perfunctory. The left analog stick moves the camera’s position and the right analog stick rotates the camera, letting you zoom in or out. Each unit is attached to a specific button on your controller, such as square or circle, and you move units by pressing these face buttons. The directional pad activates your zombie overlord’s powers, and you can cause a horde to go madly wild by pressing RB. The controls work pretty well–it is better than trying to draw boxes around specific units–but the pathfinding could use some work in spots.

I found the combat to be somewhat underwhelming. As with all things zombies, unless you are 28 Days Later, there’s nothing fast and frantic to watch, even with upgraded ninja zombie classes. Instead, you select your group of undead beings and send them off to slaughter humans or battle against ferals, and everything moves so slowly. Once the fighting starts, you just watch it happen and hope for the best. This is probably pretty common for the genre, but again, it’s not an area I know much about, and I wanted a little more direct involvement.

I will say this about Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge. It’s presented well, and the story, which is mostly told without words, is pretty funny and enjoyable to watch unfold. I love the look of both the zombies and civilians. The graphics are not extremely detailed, but are rather going for a colorful cartoon look, and it works. There’s a nicely included codex on the main menu that lets you look at all the zombies, monsters, and buildings up close since you can only zoom in so far during a mission, plus you’ll learn some good info there, like attack damage and HP stats. The music certainly evokes a B-level zombie horror style that somehow infuses mellow jazz and doesn’t really interfere with the bigger picture, and it’s fine if a bit unmemorable.

Looks like I don’t need to pick a side in this battle of zombies versus zombies–Orville or Brainhov. Instead, I’m uninstalling Zombie Tycoon 2: Brainhov’s Revenge from my PlayStation 3 and moving on to something else. Though now I have a hankering to go back and play the original Age of Empires, one of a select few RTS games I enjoyed back in the day. Granted, this was when I literally have three to four games to play on my PC, so my options were limited and I took what I could take.

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.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #30 – vApe Escape

An innocent ape
Must destroy vape dispenser
To find peace, homeland

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.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #29 – Claude and the Phantom

Haunted by cat art
Put it to peace with catnap
Click, combine items

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.

Day is night, and night is day for Pokémon Moon

pokemon_moon_3ds_screenshots_2

I skipped out on Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, which, like my first experience with Pokémon HeartGold, are remakes of older generation games. That’s fine, really. I’m not against remakes, considering I loved Spyro the Dragon: Reignited Trilogy and have heard many good things about Capcom’s revisit to Resident Evil 2. However, after Pokémon Y, I wasn’t interested in going backwards, but rather forwards, with the mechanics and list of pocket monsters evolving greatly and equally alongside the somewhat limited handheld graphics. Enter Pokémon Moon. Yes, moon, not Pokémon Sun. I’m Irish, and I burn easily.

Alas, I picked up Pokémon Moon around the same time that I got Disney Magical World 2. As you know by now, I ended up putting way more hours into running around Castleton than I did the Alola region, and I have a hard time pulling carts in and out of my Nintendo 3DS, preferring to leave a solid one in until I’m mostly done with it. I mean, I did start Pokémon Moon the night I got it, picked Rowlet as my starter (sorry, Litten and Popplio), handled a few other tasks, and saw enough of the opening area to confirm that, yes, this is another pretty good Pokémon entry, and I’ll get to it eventually–and when I do it’ll be a fun time.

On that note, if you’ve played one Pokémon game, you’ll probably not be knocked over by the general story in this one. Pokémon Moon has you journeying across the beautiful islands of the Alola region, encountering newly discovered Pokémon, as well as Pokémon that have taken on a new Alolan style. Your job is to keep track of all the Pokémon you’ve seen and caught with your Rotom Pokédex, which is a living, breathing record-keeper. Around every corner, your battling skills will be tested by tough Trainers, and epic battles are in store for you against Team Skull, a nefarious group of ruffians attempting to steal Pokémon. You’ll also face off against the kahunas, the tough leaders of each island. If you’re strong enough, you may reach the Battle Tree, a place where the most accomplished Trainers go to battle each other.

Sounds about the usual affair, so then…what’s different this time around in Pokémon Moon? Well, some of the Pokémon you’ll train and battle with can learn powerful new Z-Moves—moves so strong they can be used only once in battle. There are Z-Moves for every different type, as well as exclusive Z-Moves for certain Pokémon, including Eevee and Pikachu. There’s also a new Pokémon Refresh feature that can keep your Pokémon in top shape after all that battling. Here, you’ll take care of your Pokémon by curing any status conditions like poisoning and paralysis, and the more affectionate your Pokémon become toward you, the better they’ll perform in battle. Lastly, Pokémon can also enjoy a new experience known as Poké Pelago, a place for them to visit when they’ve been placed in PC Boxes. This is a group of islands where your Pokémon can explore, play, and do other fun activities, growing stronger and obtaining items for you.

Actually, the biggest difference for Pokémon Moon and Pokémon Sun is the clock. Yup, time, time, time. In addition, the two games’ clocks are set 12 hours apart from each other, with Sun operating on the standard 3DS time, and Moon 12 hours ahead. This means, when I usually play the game at night, it is actually daylight in-game…and vice versa. This does affect some of the Pokémon you’ll encounter, and I find it rather neat nonetheless.

Perhaps my favorite new feature in Pokémon Moon is that after facing off against a Pokémon once, the game automatically charts whether a move will be effective or not. No longer do I need to look up what works against what online or keep tables labeled effective or super effective in my memory. This is fantastic both for newcomers and series loyalists. I don’t care if some see it as dumbing the game down; there’s still plenty of things to dig deep into, if that’s what people like about their Pokémon games, such as breeding or finding shiny versions.

I’m playing Pokémon Moon super slowly–I mean, it’s been a few years now–and that’s perfectly fine. Every now and then I get the itch to go in, wander around, catch some new pocket monsters, and level up my team. I also enjoy dressing up my avatar in new clothes. Maybe I’ll advance the story, and maybe I won’t, content to just noodle around with all the side content and extracurricular activities. I figure this will still hold me over until I get a Nintendo Switch and have to make the difficult decision between Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. Hmm. Really, it’s whatever one has Garbodor in it.

Wargroove brings brain-teasing tactics to consoles

Evidently, I am attracted to a very specific type of strategy game, and it is Wargroove. Which, as far as I can tell, is trying to be a modern take on the Advance Wars series, but I never got to play any of them, woe is me. In fact, the only strategy games I have any experience with are Fire Emblem: Awakening, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, among other smaller titles that I surely can’t remember at this moment. In short, I’ve never been a big fan of SRPGs or tactical games, but the genre is growing on me, especially if it is turn-based and not action-driven, like the Command & Conquer series. Give me time to think, people.

Anyways, Wargroove is a turn-based tactics video game in which players explore maps and battle foes, which is pretty typical stuff. Players can choose to take control of one of thirteen commanders, each with their own campaign, motivations, and personality, as well as special ability, referred to as a Groove. The game supports local and online multiplayer, including player versus player and cooperative play. There’s also a bunch of campaign-editing tools to allow players to create their own maps, which I promise here and now to never do though I’m not opposed to downloading some others have created. For me, it’s all about the main campaign.

Let’s dig in further. When war breaks out in the Kingdom of Cherrystone, the young Queen Mercia–who I occasionally misread as Merica–must flee her home. Pursued by her foes, which includes vampires, the only way to save her kingdom is to travel to new lands in search of allies. So far, I’ve only completing all the missions in Act 1 so…this is kind of all I really know story-wise at the moment. I’m sure things will get more dramatic later, but Wargroove does a great job with its storytelling, using in-game graphics to present bits of dialogue. I am always a fan of when a character grunts or just speaks one word from an entire sentence, and that’s how things go here, but you still get an idea about these people and what they sound like.

The first few missions do a good job of slowly easing you into Wargroove‘s groove. Your goal is generally to either defeat the opposing army’s commander or take their fortress. Capturing unallied buildings on the map or taking them from your opponent earns you money, which you can then spend on new units or health. The campaign introduces the units one after another and gives you hints as to their use, as well as how to use their respective critical hits. The first time you’re up against airborne fiends, for example, you also gain ballistas and mages, both excellent against that particular type of enemy. These missions give you time to get to know units and their strengths and weaknesses without being overbearing. Knowing what type of soldier fares best against what enemy is vitally crucial to keeping your troops standing.

So far, Wargroove’s weaknesses are a bit of a bummer and do detract from its general goodness. These include its occasional spike of crushing difficulty and tendency to drag on, turn after turn after turn. Positioning characters in the right spots for attacks and critical hits is already difficult enough, but Wargroove’s maps are relatively large, which means you can spend round after round simply traveling to meet the enemy or setting up your troops in the most optimal location possible. Maps often have chokepoints, such as bridges, that can be difficult to circumvent, quickly leading to your soldiers literally lining up to meet their maker. Flanking enemies is really important, as your damage to rival troops goes up greatly, but generating an army large enough to do so takes time, even if you load a bunch of them into wagons.

That all said, I am enjoying Wargroove and am excited to hop back into it after taking a bit of break once I got through Act 1’s missions. Seems like a big patch just hit for the game too, with many things being updated, such as adding mid-mission checkpoints and such. That’s cool. If it can make some of the more difficult missions easier and forgiving, I’m all for it, because it stinks to waste thirty minutes doing battle only to have your commander get wiped somewhat unfairly.

Lastly, I’m just going to leave this here, because it is all anyone needs to see to know that Wargroove is super special:

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Alien Rage

Hey, remember Bulletstorm? I do. Not immensely fondly, but it had a thing it was going for, and boy did it go for it. The parts I really liked about Bulletstorm were pulling off fun, nifty “skill kill” tricks with guns, whips, and kicks and getting big points for it, along with sliding around the open-ish environments. Well, Alien Rage–what a balloon-deflating name–is pretty similar to Bulletstorm, with a focus on earning points by killing enemies in more unique ways than simply shooting them in their faces.

Alien Rage takes place on an asteroid that humans and an alien species known as Vorus were jointly mining for Promethium, a highly efficient source of energy. After the Vorus turned on the humans and wiped the miners out, Jack, the player character, is sent to the mining facility to kill the aliens and destroy the facility. I’m sorry if you wanted a story with a little more depth to it, but that’s all I got. It’s basically a SyFy afternoon time-filler movie starring nobody you have ever heard of. Audio logs try to flesh things out, but there isn’t much to go off of from the start.

Well, obviously, Alien Rage is a first-person shooter, in which players fight through several linear levels, killing a variety of aliens. At the end of every few levels, you have to do battle with a larger alien in a boss fight. Players score points by killing a large number of aliens in a short period of time or by killing them in special ways, such as using explosions or getting sick headshots. These points can be used later to upgrade Jack–for example, by boosting his resistance to damage or increasing the amount of ammunition that he is able to carry. The better you do, the better you play. Jack can carry two weapons at a time, but also has a pistol with unlimited ammunition so you are never without a weapon. He can also use both human- and alien-manufactured weapons in the game, and alien weapons use a cool-down period instead of having to reload.

I’m playing on the “normal” level of difficulty and finding Alien Rage extremely challenging, only getting myself up to the third level. Actually, the “normal” difficulty setting calls itself “hard” next to the arrogantly named “challenging” easy level. Um, okay. There are frequently unpleasant areas that throw a ton of enemies at you at once. Now, they’re not really all that tough to kill and they’re dumb enough to round a corner in single file at you, but their weapons deplete Jack’s small health pool extremely quickly so if you aren’t constantly ducking in and out of cover you are going to go down swiftly. I’d complain more about this, but this type of challenge seems to be what Alien Rage wants and prides itself on, and that’s fine, I guess, but I’d prefer not to play a first-person shooter by inching myself forward at a snail’s crawl and having to replay entire chunks of fights over and over again.

Alien Rage also offers competitive multiplayer. There are two modes–deathmatch and team deathmatch–and a small number of maps to run around in though I couldn’t really get into any of these due to a lack of other people still playing this easily forgettable game today. Oh well, so it goes.

I truly don’t feel a lick bad about only giving Alien Rage an hour or so of my time and then uninstalling it from my PlayStation 3. It’s bland and generic and a bit too tough for my fingers. Good luck, Jack, dealing with the Vorus without me…you’re gonna need 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.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn cutely pulls the wool over your eyes

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I had a retail copy of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which is a light-hearted platformer developed by Good-Feel and HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Wii way back in 2010. Then, during my divorce, I gave up the Wii and most of its games, yet ended up still having the case of the game, along with the manual…minus the disc. Hmm. I suspect it was inside the Wii when it was unplugged and all that because I’m usually pretty good when it comes to not losing my beloved videogames. Thankfully, I can stop looking for it because I have a newer, shinier version of it to play.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn for the Nintendo 3DS might very well be the system’s last big release. I don’t see much else coming out down the road, but you never know…I feel like a lot of people are constantly surprised to see the handheld still being supported, but it makes sense to me when you factor in its large user base. Sure, most have probably moved on to the Nintendo Switch by now, as I will eventually do one day, whenever they get around to announcing an Animal Crossing-themed bundle. Anyways, it’s an enhanced remake of Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, which means it has the same content as the original release, but also includes new power-ups, modes, and sub-games starring Meta Knight and King Dedede as playable characters. Alas, this version now lacks co-op, so Prince Fluff is not playable, but that’s okay…it’s perfectly fine for solo-ing.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn‘s not a plot-heavy adventure despite the word epic in its title. Kirby is wandering around Dream Land one day when an evil wizard banishes him to Patch Land, a world made up entirely of fabric. Kirby is transformed as well, including his powers. He can no longer copy the abilities of enemies by eating them whole; instead, Kirby can shift form into various vehicles and other devices. Using this and his yarn whip, he journeys through Patch Land as he attempts to put it all back together.

Many originally complained that the Wii game was a bit too easy and forgiving, almost built for children. Well, for those that want more challenge for their cutesy pink platforming star, the introduction of a new Devilish Mode will keep seasoned gamers more on their toes. This new mode ups the challenge a teeny bit–this will never be a splatformer–by having a devil-like character following Kirby the entire time, trying to get in his way or hit him with tossed items. I tried it a few times and found that, ultimately, it is not for me; I like taking my time and exploring every nook and cranny, getting every gem I can, but this mode forces you to keep moving and never stand still. No thanks, but it is there if you want it.

Along with Devilish Mode, there are two extra additions to the original Kirby’s Epic Yarn experience exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS version, plus amiibo and StreetPass support, both of which I no longer care about or am able to do. These are the minigames starring King Dedede and Meta Knight; one is called Dedede Gogogo, and the other is Slash & Bead, and both are relatively similar to each other. For Dedede Gogogo, it is basically an endless runner with Dedede moving across the screen, hitting or diving through whatever comes into his path all while trying to collect as many beads as possible. Slash & Bead has a teensy bit more agency, allowing the player to freely explore the screen, hacking and slashing at everything as the legendary Meta Knight. Each minigame contains four stages to complete, and you can craft…uh, things, such as a yarn donut, with some of the gems and materials you collect in these minigames. It’s not a boatload of extra stuff, but it is something else to do.

Here’s the thing. For Kirby’s Epic Yarn, I never got that far, maybe just to Hot Land. The reasoning behind this is because I was playing it with my then-partner, and we just didn’t end up returning to it after our first gleeful initial session with it. For Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, I’m already at Hot Land and excited to keep playing. I also am looking forward to decorating my apartment with all things green, as well as helping to flesh out the other apartments with required furniture and wallpaper. It’s not Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but I’ll take it.

The Legendary Starfy: a stuffy, unsettled luminous spheroid of plasma

There was a short time there when I’d go into a GameStop, swing by the Nintendo 3DS section, ignore all the 3DS titles in their big and bright white boxes, and start sifting through the shelves with countless envelopes that only contained DS games–no box, no manual, just a loose cartridge. These were often extremely cheap, usually a couple bucks at most, and my true goal was to find a copy of Suikoden Tierkreis, but alas that hasn’t happened yet. Still, I’d grab anything that looked remotely interesting, and so I have a strange conglomeration of DS games in a Ziploc bag. Every now and then, I pluck one out and give it a try, for better or for worse, which brings us to The Legendary Starfy.

The Legendary Starfy series are platformers, focusing more on swimming than running and jumping around. That makes sense when you consider you are playing as a starfish. Still, you do go on land, and the controls are par for the course when it comes to running, jumping, and landing on platforms. However, when in the water, players can only move Starfy around using the control pad alone; if you want to make Starfy swim faster–and who doesn’t?–you must hold the B button down. The games are usually composed of multiple stages or worlds, with each stage split up into four sub-stages. Boss characters are found at the end of each world’s final sub-stage, and most of the other sub-stages are centered around retrieving a lost or stolen item for another character.

The Legendary Starfy is essentially an aquatic spin on Kirby, mixing up a lot of the same mechanisms and gameplay styles as Nintendo’s pink puff-ball, as well as throwing in other classic gaming influences for good measure. The game is bright and colorful, bouncy as heck, friendly, reminding me of things like Plok for the SNES and Ristar for the Sega Genesis, and those are good things. The game itself definitely feels targeted at a younger audience, and that’s okay; I’m not against a platformer that provides a lighter challenge–sorry, Celeste fans–interested more in telling a zany, fast-moving story. There’s quite a lot of chatting to read too, as Starfy has many friends, and they like talking.

Let’s talk about that story for a moment. Starfy ends up accompanying a shape-shifting space rabbit on his quest to recover pieces of his crystal spaceship, along with his memory in the process. This leads to a hodgepodge of silly or simply unexpected elements, such as transforming into a fire-breathing dragon or squawking chicken, as well as the ability to swim upwards through rainbows and giant raindrops. Along the way, he’ll meet lots of friends and foes, and even do side quests for some of them, like find red pearls for Herman or racing against Fork. Your in-game case lets you review all this, and there’s also a journal to read, as well as The Moe Show, a talk show hosted by a clam. Yeah, you heard me. Plenty of other things to poke at too, it’s brimming with extra content.

Evidently, The Legendary Starfy is pretty big in Japan, with plenty of merchandise to go around for the little yellow dude in Japanese retail stores, such as plush dolls, pencils, birthday balloons, and casino cards. It only came over to North America in the form of the fifth game. Anyways, Densetsu no Stafy is a manga series produced by Shogakukan and Nintendo, and it is based on the game series, specifically the first and second titles. Oh, and this little starfish shines bright elsewhere, showing up in games like Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, Super Princess Peach, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and an unlockable costume in Super Mario Maker.

I do like dressing Starfy up in different costumes–right now he’s rocking a rubber-ducky ring and sunglasses–but I do wish that these outfits were reflected in the main game’s sprite, not just the 3D model section. Oh well. Maybe one day we’ll see this star-shaped echinoderm on the Nintendo Switch, not just in Japan, but here in North America too. I think he’s up for another adventure.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Vessel

Vessel is probably a game I would have spent a ton of time on in my younger years, when videogames were scarce and my collection only grew by a title of two every few months. Now, I get free videogames to play every single day from all the various programs I’m subscribed to, plus the Internet is just full of freebies, and, frankly, it’s becoming a bit too much for my brain to keep up with. I’m not bragging; this is just reality. This ultimately means that if a game doesn’t really hook me from the start I don’t have to fret too much over walking away from it, knowing there are plenty of other fish in the ocean to eat. Sorry, Vessel, but you’re the equivalent of a monkfish in this scenario.

The main character of Vessel is M. Arkwright, an inventor who creates a liquid-composed, labor-performing automaton called the Fluro. He creates this automaton in order to perform laborious tasks more efficiently than human beings because…well, in the end, we’re all truly lazy. However, the Fluros begin to run amok and cause machinery to malfunction. In order to restore the machinery back to a functioning status, Arkwright must travel through Vessel‘s world and fix the broken parts, which more or less means solving physics-related puzzles. Expect lots of locked doors and levers and pressure plates to push.

A supply of Fluro “seeds” enables Arkwright to conjure these critters wherever he chooses. Drop one down, submerge it in water, lava, or even fruit juice, and a helper will arise, eager to assist you in solving the current puzzle. Different seeds provide Fluros of different behaviors too, as some are fixated on button pushing while others will chase you or seek out light sources. Environments often have grills through which only Fluros can pass, so much of the game involves working out where to place a Fluro so that it can run through a bunch of switches in the right order. There’s a lot of trial and error, of course, and, as with anything based on physics, not everything works as you expect it to. Sometimes the thing you control with a lever won’t stop exactly where you want it, but that’s okay.

Viewing screenshots shows that Vessel does not simply stay in the factory-esque world of the first hour or so of gameplay. Which is good, because it is both dark and boring-looking there. I almost had to turn up the brightness level on my TV to solve a puzzle. You will, in fact, get to go outside, and it’s a shame I never made it that far, as the environments look much brighter and visually stimulating than a bunch of muted machinery. Oh well, maybe next time.

Much like other puzzle platformers or puzzle-driven exploration romps, like Unmechanical: Extended and Quantum Conundrum, I played this for a bit before the puzzles became just a wee bit too much for my brain to handle. Again, there was a time in my life that I probably could sit and bang my head against the puzzles until something gave, but that time is no longer now. So, I’ll just let the Fluros continue running amok, leaving Vessel unsolved and in a state of disrepair. My bad.

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.