Category Archives: xbox 360

The dark side of the Force is a pathway to LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

So far, my track record with the LEGO Star Wars games has been downhill ever since, well, the very first one, LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, which came out in 2005. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga has its share of issues, and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was fine if a bit forgettable…though controlling BB-8 was a pure blast of delight. In fact, I’ve been having more and more issues with the latest LEGO games, and I think I’m starting to become no longer a fan of their structure and demand of grinding out studs to purchase everything from here to the moon.

The nitty-gritty is upon us: LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is another action-adventure videogame based on The Clone Wars animated series, of which I’ve never seen a single episode though I know a lot people like it greatly, developed by Traveller’s Tales and published by LucasArts. It was originally released in March 2011 for the PlayStation 3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo 3DS consoles, and I ended up playing it via backwards-compatibility on my Xbox One. It features missions and characters from The Clone Wars television series, as well as everyone’s favorite characters from the original Star Wars saga, and there are both single-player and multiplayer gameplay modes to engage in.

The game engine used by previous LEGO Star Wars games has been upgraded to now hold more than 200 moving units or objects on-screen. That’s cool and all…and yet, I hated having swarms of constantly respawning enemies attack me as I tried to figure out what to do next. It didn’t add anything but frustration, especially as you see your stud count dropping with each and every death. Another dent in the hood is the fact that a majority of missions feel aimless, and the game doesn’t help you know where to go or what to do, especially the large levels where you need to take control of a number of enemy areas; for instance, some structures can only be destroyed by using a commander-like Stormtrooper to have a bunch of other Stormtroopers shoot at it in unison while other structures can simply be taken down by a lightsaber or tank. Getting around in these large areas is also a slog, and having vehicles that blow up after one or two hits doesn’t help.

The more traditional levels in LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars are fine, if the standard formula affair. It’s when the developers try to do something outside of it that things become wearisome. Such as the spaceship flying levels that have you going to and fro, landing on various ships to pull a lever or hit a doo-hickie or something like that. Or the big battlefield levels where you have to destroy enemy strongholds and build your own on top of them, all while dealing with an unending wave of enemies out for blood. Using the Force to move objects around still requires a great deal of patience; don’t expect perfection when trying to build a climbable tower. The hub zone is tiresome to navigate through and confusing, and many areas are blocked off until you have a specific amount of gold bricks; also, say you need R2-D2 to open a door, but you aren’t currently running around as it…you need to travel back to a menu desk, select it from the character list, and then travel back to where the door was and pray, pray, you don’t need another character to do something else, otherwise it is a lot of retreading.

Here’s a first: I used cheat codes to unlock a bulk of the red bricks in LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. I’ve never done this before, but the idea of replaying all these levels again just seems so taxing on my mind, and the cheats don’t seem to affect unlocking Achievements. This will also be the first LEGO game that I don’t complete to 100%, and I’m actually okay with that. I’m going to finish the things I want to do, like getting True Jedi in every level and buying all the characters, but other than that…I’m ready to say goodbye to this brickish world. Also, I may very well do the same thing with LEGO City Undercover, another title that seems to require a ton of grinding and replaying to fully finish; at least that one had a fun story to follow.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #23 – LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

Aimless adventure
Lightsabers, blasters–Star Wars
Used cheat codes, first time

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.

Mark of the Ninja: Remastered is stealth perfection, once more

I loved Mark of the Ninja, back when I played it in late 2012, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the game via the recently released Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, which, thanks to Klei, was given out for free to owners of the original title. Y’know, like me. Honestly, I had no idea this was even a thing that was happening; one day, I was skimming through my list of “ready to install” on the Xbox One, as I’m wont to do, and I saw a new icon there for it. Consider me tickled pink and pleased.

What makes this version remastered? I’m not exactly sure. Evidently, there was a bit of “Special Edition” DLC released for the game way back in the day that added a flashback level and new play style, but I didn’t even know that existed, and Mark of the Ninja: Remastered comes with that included. Oh, and there’s also some developer commentary nodes to discover as you play, of which I read every single entry as I find the behind-the-scenes stuff really interesting, especially when the devs are talking about limitations or coming up with unique solutions to problems. I believe this new version also features high-resolution art and improved sound, but it kind of looked, felt, and sounded like the same game to me.

Mark of the Ninja: Remastered‘s story remains the same, so I’ll touch on it only briefly. Our unnamed ninja protagonist–y’know what, let’s refer to him as Larry Ninja from this point forward–is resting after receiving an extensive irezumi tattoo, but is suddenly awakened by a female ninja named Ora. A heavily armed force is attacking the dojo of the Hisomu ninja clan. After gathering up his equipment, Larry Ninja is able to defeat these attackers and rescue his sensei, Azai, as well as several other members of the clan. Then it is off to the races, to take revenge on a corporation called Hessian, run by a ruthless Eastern European plutocrat named Count Karajan.

Dosan’s Tale is the DLC I never experienced during my first go with the game. It’s a flashback level to the early life of Dosan, the tattoo artist for Larry Ninja, which sets the stage for the events that transpire in Mark of the Ninja. It offers a different play style with new, nonlethal takedowns, as well as two new items, one geared toward stealth and the other one being more direct. It’s not terribly long, but it is enjoyable and fun to play a different way; I was mostly a mix of lethal and nonlethal during my two playthroughs, and only focused on being truly stealthy while going back to levels to get all the scrolls, seals, and challenges. The dust moths are pretty neat, and you can use these additional items in the main game’s levels too, opening up additional ways to deal with guards and spotlights and snipers, oh my.

Look, I don’t want to sit here and just rehash whatever I’ve already said about Mark of the Ninja, but it truly is a fun game to play, even when you goof up a stealth section yet manage to come out of it alive thanks to the game’s tight controls and variety of items or options to silence all the guards and barking dogs. My favorite tactic this second time around was using poisoned darts to make guards panic, shoot their co-workers, and then take their own life. Naturally, this helped me get through tons of sections where I just hung to a wall in the shadows and watched the chaos unfold for mega bonus points. I also found myself learning how to hide bodies better to the point that I considered becoming a ninja myself, a true covert agent from feudal Japan. I even went the extra mile to pop every Achievement but one because I’m not interested in doing a new game plus playthrough where things get even tougher for Larry Ninja.

If you already played Mark of the Ninja and found it to be just fine, you probably don’t need to double dip. However, I really enjoyed going back to Klei’s well-designed world, and stealth-killing a guard, stringing him up to a light-post, and watching his friends freak out never gets old. If you have yet to experience the fun that I just described, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of Mark of the Ninja: Remastered.

Brave’s videogame transformation is not surprisingly rote

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being slightly baffled as to why Brave, that character action romp from 2012 developed by Behaviour Interactive and published by Disney Interactive Studios, not to be mixed up with another similar-sounding series, was being offered as a Games for Gold freebie this month for those on Xbox One and Xbox 360, but then I realized it is probably the closest thing Microsoft has that’s Irish-like in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I mean, let’s look at the facts–Scotland is totally near Ireland, and Kelly Macdonald’s deeply relaxing and soothing accent might as well be coming out of a banshee’s mouth. I guess those are all the facts.

Actually, no, another fact–I love Brave. I’m specifically talking about the animated movie here, the one where Princess Mérida, determined to make her own path in life, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, she must rely on her bravery and ultra-good archery skills to undo a beastly curse and bring about peace to both her kingdom and family. That said, I do not love the videogame version of Brave, though I have just about squeezed every bit of entertainment from it by the time this post goes public. By that, I mean I popped all but one Achievement, the one for beating the game on its hardest difficulty setting.

This tie-in take on Brave doesn’t follow the film’s events scene by scene. Instead, it’s kind of a side happening, with Mérida chasing after her mother, now in bear form (uh, spoilers?), and discovering that a magical blight has befallen the land. To stop it, she’ll need to defeat Mor’du, along with a number of generically traditional evil creatures. There’s under ten levels to get through, and you’ll do them linearly, and they are all linear themselves, following almost the same exact progression, but more on that in a bit. The story never really becomes its own thing and never rises above an excuse to have a bunch of monsters to destroy; at least the hand-drawn cutscenes are more interesting to watch than the ones using in-game graphics, which, and this is not uncommon for this generation, are extremely ugly and lacking life, character. I mean, the inside of any castle section might as well be from the chopping floor for Demon Souls or Oblivion.

Brave‘s gameplay is far from courageous or anything unique. There’s running around, jumping on platforms, loosing arrows, and hitting plants and enemies with your sword. Oh, and I can’t forget the section where you play as her bear-mother Elinor, or the parts where you control her bear-brothers to solve beyond straightforward puzzles involving levers and switches. Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this kind of played like a twin-stick shooter. Using the right stick, you can loose an arrow in mostly any direction and change the element it is based on–earth, fire, wind, or ice–which is necessary for affecting the environment, as well as dealing more damage based on an enemy’s weakness. Fire boars hate ice, for instance. That said, the arrows sometimes don’t go where you want them to, and it reminded me a lot of trying to hit enemies in the background in Shadow Complex.

Look, this is obviously a family-friendly title, and thus, the action is okay, never trying too hard to be more than a standard affair. On the default difficulty, it never, ever even came close to challenging. My go-to plan for dealing with enemies was to fire at them from a distance and then, if they got close, double-jump and stab downward into the ground with Mérida’s sword for a damaging slam move. The only time it ever got tricky was when there were multiple enemies on screen with different weaknesses, requiring you to either switch your element out on the fly or take on a single set of enemies out first. The final boss fight–or rather final boss fights–have a bunch of these, but by that point in the game, Mérida is full of upgrades and more than capable of taking a few hits.

Speaking of that, the upgrades are what one expects in these types of games–more health, deal more damage, element effects last longer, potions restore more life, etc. They each require a specific amount of gold, which you earn from defeating monsters and cutting up flora. One playthrough alone of the game will probably only net you enough gold coins to buy maybe one-third of all the upgrades. So choose wisely or, if you are like me and want every Achievement, be prepared to grind out some money, and this includes purchasing the co-op specific upgrades. The ones you definitely want early on are increasing your power move meter more quickly, either from dealing damage or receiving it, the range at which you suck up gold coins, and the minion-summoning power for the earth element.

I’ve not played many of these tie-in games to Pixar/Disney properties I love because, well, they are often not what I want. Here’s a link to my thoughts on that The Incredibles game, which still hurts to think about today. I can’t say I was surprised by how Brave turned out, and I’m only holding out hope now on the rumor of a LEGO-based game for the upcoming The Incredibles II. That said, I’m sure if I ever get a copy of the videogame takes on WALL-E, Up, or Toy Story 3, I’ll foolishly give them a honest chance, forgetting all the missteps I’ve seen along the way up to this point.

Well, as they famously say in Scotland, lang may yer lum reek, Brave. I never want to play you again.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #17 – Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Bombs are a big deal
For an older Ezio
Nothing new divulged

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

In Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, you fight ideas with bombs

I’m continuing to work through the Assassin’s Creed games…well, the ones I have anyways. Left to go in my current collection are the topic du jour (psst, that’s French for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations), Assassin’s Creed III, and two entries from the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles sub-series, which I’m lead to believe are a bit different in structure and style. I’ve already played the first game, the second game, the sequel to the second game, and the one featuring pirates and battles at sea. I like each of them to varying degrees.

All right, here we go. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the third and final chapter in the so-called Ezio trilogy. It picks up right after Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which, I had completely forgotten, ended with a big ol’ killer twist. Anyways, spoiler alert for a 2011 game…in three, two, one. Desmond Miles has fallen into a coma due to the stress of being forced to kill his ally Lucy Stillman while being controlled by Juno, the hologram attached to the Apple of Eden. In an effort to save Desmond’s mind, Rebecca Crane places him back in the Animus, in the machine’s safe mode called the “Black Room”. Alas, the only way to repair his mind is by reliving his ancestors’ memories until there is nothing left for them to show Desmond, at which point the Animus can separate Desmond from Ezio and Altaïr and awaken him from his coma. Er, yeah–it’s not at all confusing. And so, you jump back into the perspective of the still suave but older Ezio Auditore. Four years after ending the life of Cesare Borgia, Ezio has traveled to the former Assassins’ fortress in Masyaf to discover the secrets Altaïr had previously unearthed and find the true purpose of the assassins.

Phew. Look, at this point, I’m not really paying all that much attention to the plot, especially since I’ve already heard that, despite the game’s boasting subtitle, there are very few revelations to learn in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I’m here for the running around, rooftop climbing, knife throwing, stealth stabbing, hay jumping, bomb tossing, collectible finding antics. Also, buying different dyes for Ezio’s outfit always makes me happy, especially the green-themed ones, and watching Constantinople grow due to his influence and the money roll into your bank account in larger amounts is extremely satisfying.

As far as I can tell, this plays just as well as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I think by this point in the series Ubisoft tightened the controls and really made everything feel both good and natural. I’m finding myself not making as many  jumping mistakes when climbing up tall towers, and the hookblade upgrade really helps move things along quicker, with Ezio now able to leap higher and use ziplines conveniently placed around the city. Otherwise, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, and so you probably already know what you do in these games, generally. Strangely, there’s some optional first-person platforming sections when playing as comatose Desmond, and they are about as fun as you might initially expect. I’m going to finish them all for the sake of Achievements only. Also, if the Templars become too aware of your actions, they will attack one of your dens, and the only way to get it back is through a tower defense minigame, which I do not like one bit.

As of this writing, I’m somewhere in…sequence 5 (of 9) for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I’ve only seen two or three instances of tailing missions so far, and they honestly weren’t that bad compared to others. Otherwise, everything has been par for the course, with some fetch quests, some platforming challenges, some hidden murdering, some open murdering, and a whole lot of collecting treasure, purchasing shops, and completing challenges. For some reason, I really like these kinds of games because there is always something to do, a goal to go after, not just the main quests. Even standing around idle will eventually help, with money being deposited in your bank account every twenty minutes.

Perhaps the thing that separates Assassin’s Creed: Revelations from others in the series, at this point in its release, is its focus on bombs. For those that don’t know, bombs are explosive weapons used by assassins from as early as the High Middle Ages, and they can be employed for a variety of tactics, including escape, assault, and distraction. Ezio can craft his own bombs by looting dead soldiers for materials or he can purchase them from illusive shopkeepers, and I have found myself using them more than expected; if anything, they are great distraction items, especially if you need to make a quick getaway. Still, the controls for them can be fiddly, and trying to use them effectively in the middle of an eight-on-one sword fight does not always work out right. It does add some variety and options to the missions though.

I don’t expect to learn much by the end of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, but coming to it many years later, and not right after the previous game, wherein many were beginning to suffer from Ubisoft fatigue, I’m having a fine ol’ time. I also have to wonder how many, if any, are even playing this game’s multiplayer; I’ll give it a try after credits scroll, but I won’t hold my breath.

Back to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, where the shadows are

I acquired a digital version of the Game of the Year edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time I got Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was last Black Friday. Not a full year ago, but somewhat close. Still, knowing that both were big, meaty adventures with intricate systems, I decided to start one over the other and promised not to diverge from that plan until credits rolled. I went with Dragon Age: Inquisition and greatly regret that decision. I had played inferior versions of both games, click here for whinging about glitches in Ferelden and click here for whinging about insufferably long load times in Middle-earth, but I was more interested, at that time, in a traditional roleplaying adventure that was all about managing stats and less about quickly climbing up rocks and sticking daggers in necks. If only I knew then what I know now.

Moving along, I’m now working my way through Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time as I tackle the open wilderness in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, at more or less the same pace as I did with the Xbox 360 version, even tackling the side missions and collectibles similarly. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit. The only difference really is that this GOTY edition provided me with some extra special weapon runes from the start, one of which lights my sword on fire after a long combo streak. I’m usually not a fan of pre-order bonuses that dramatically make things easier for the player, but this time I’m not complaining. Also, it looks cool as heck, the kind of effect that Beric Dondarrion would quietly appreciate.

The ho-hum plot takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. You control a ranger called Talion, who was killed by the Black Hand of Sauron alongside his wife and son. The wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor bonds with Talion’s body, and together they set out to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by taking down every goblin, orc, and troll in their way. Also, there’s Gollum, because of course there is, and his missions often have him leading you somewhere and then following hidden tracks to trigger an event. I’m a little further story-wise than I was during my first go at Talion’s take on revenge, and I’m not finding it all that thrilling, and this is from a guy that has played a lot of Lord of the Rings games, including sub-par ones like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Aragorn’s Quest, both from the PlayStation 2 era.

Gameplay in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which one could easily call a third-person open world action-adventure thing, is basically the Assassin’s Creed series with big improvements to mobility and combat. You run around, you climb, you attack swarms of enemies, you collect collectibles, and you level up your weapons and abilities by gaining XP. You can be a stealthy ranger or an action-first ranger or, most likely, a mixture of both. The combat is rhythmic in the vein of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and it feels good to be in complete control of a mob of Orcs, keeping the combo chain high and mighty. There’s no surprises here so far, but a lot has been streamlined to feel better or make things easier, such as not taking fall down from high heights or being able to get a burst of speed after mantling an object. My favorite is a new ability I just got that lets Talion immediately warp to a selected enemy’s location; Tolkien sure did love his teleporting rangers.

Obviously, the biggest hook in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s arsenal is the Nemesis System, which tracks any non-generic Uruk that the player comes into contact with, either through story beats or simply by killing Talion or surviving a fight with the ranger. These Uruk will be promoted into captains, and defeating these leaders helps weaken Sauron’s army. On the flip side, being killed by a named Uruk will cause the current mission to be cancelled, and the victorious Uruk will gain additional power, making him more difficult to defeat in the next encounter. This system was not fully implemented on the previous generation version, and I definitely missed out on a lot of personality, character, of really feeling like these Uruks were living, breathing, vengeful monstrosities traipsing around Middle-earth according to their own schedules. See, each of these named Uruks have a range of strengths and weaknesses that Talion can exploit in combat to quickly take them out, such as a fear of explosions or invulnerability to ranged attacks, and you can gain this type of knowledge by draining and interrogating marked enemies, systemically removing the leader’s bodyguards and barriers.

I’m mildly enjoying Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but in bite-sized chunks. Hop into the game, find a collectible or two, take on a story mission, and close out, as the combat can become quite button mashy and my thumb often needs a break by the time Talion is done beheading his fiftieth orc. The stealth, when successful, is great and makes you feel pretty powerful, but I’m not invested in the story bits…one bit. As this is the GOTY edition, there’s plenty to see and do, with DLC included, and I’ll probably keep plugging away at this while everyone enjoys Middle-earth: Shadow of War next month. Thankfully, I’m in no rush to see Sauron’s army fall, especially knowing that it will just rise up again, bigger and stronger, in the forthcoming sequel.