Category Archives: xbox one

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.

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Anodyne’s dream world is perfect for wondering and wandering

Over the weekend, I beat Anodyne, and I still remain conflicted over how I feel about the game overall. I liked a lot of moments and puzzles and found others beyond frustrating; I had to look up several walkthroughs online just to keep going and figure out what I needed to do next, and that is something I desperately try to avoid doing when playing anything for the first time. I don’t know. It’s a strange game, set in an even stranger world, where characters say the strangest things to our leading lad Young, and it’s up to you to determine if what they say matters or not. I don’t think they did.

First, what is Anodyne? It’s an action-adventure game clearly inspired by the original The Legend of Zelda, or even The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, developed by Analgesic Productions, the same team that brought us Even the Ocean and All Our Asias. It was released on PC some years ago, but just came to consoles recently, which was a pleasant surprise. The game begins with little explanation as Young jumps into a dream-like world via a main hub area…for some purpose. Once there, a somewhat terse and shrouded Sage sets him off on a mysterious journey to open gates, defeat evil monsters, and collect a good number of cards. All right then.

Whereas the general tone of things like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and The Legend of the Skyfish are colorful and positive, upbeat, all about adventuring forward and seeing new sights, Anodyne is the opposite. The vibe I constantly felt as I put in over six hours into this dark adventure was one of unease. There’s an unsettling cloud that hangs over every screen, every word that these oddball NPCs spew out at Young, words that seemingly have no purpose other than to take up time or make you wonder. I always felt like I was intruding, disturbing the environment in some way, even on the screens that were complete dead ends. There are tormented characters, and I honestly don’t even know what Briar, the final boss, was all about, but he was certainly disturbed, along with a pain to fight.

Something I love is that Young wields a broom, not a sword. The broom can still be used to attack enemies, but it is also used for puzzle solving, picking up puffs of dust to use to navigate waterways. There are a bunch of upgrades you can get for the broom too to change how it functions, the last one being a real post-game changer. In terms of puzzles, you are usually looking for a key or a way to hit a switch or, even trickier, get an enemy to hit a switch for you. They are never too hard to solve, and I found the jumping parts in the acrobat dungeon to be the hardest to time and nail perfectly. Some frustration comes from the map and seeing rooms with exits you can’t seemingly reach.

The game’s retro look and subtle soundtrack works well for Anodyne‘s vibe. The 16-bit graphics–and, at times, 8-bit–will never blow your face off, but there’s a comforting feel to many of the screens, hearkening back to the good ol’ SNES days with games like Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy III. It makes exploring every nook and cranny worth it, even if all you get is a dead-end screen, and the sound effects of hitting a slime with your broom are satisfying. I did notice some weird flickering on the menu screen, especially when viewing the cards you collected. Other than that, Anodyne plays exactly like it looks like it should play.

I popped all but two Achievements, and I’m okay with that. One is for finding a bunch more cards, which is something you can only do post-game, but I’m not feeling the desire to look around this world more. The other is for beating the game in under three hours–no thanks. Still, in the end, I’m glad I played Anodyne, even if I might not ever truly know how I feel about the experience. That said, I most certainly will be playing whatever comes out of Analgesic Productions next.

You are designed for accomplishment, so says 100,000 Gamerscore

As y’all probably know, I’ve been at this for a while, slowly building up my pointless and inconsequential Gamerscore, trying to hit it perfectly on big numbers like 10,000, 20,000, and so on. It makes getting these silly things called Achievements fun and somewhat meaningful to me, especially the extra ones you have to actually work for, and I will most likely continue to go at it…though having now finally hit 100,000, I feel like I might not make a big stink of it going forward. I mean, sure 110,000 is a bigger and better number than 100,000, but it just doesn’t seem as cool. Weird.

Anyways, I was real close to hitting this mega-milestone mark back in July, but then some other things happened, and I was away from my Xbox One for a good number of weeks. Once I was back to recovering at home on the couch, I was able to play a few more titles and earn some Achievements, hitting 100,000 perfectly on the nose thanks to games like Death Squared, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and State of Decay 2. Woo, go me, big celebration.

As always, picture proof, though I only snapped this one photo of my cool-as-cool-gets number using my cell phone’s camera against my broken TV:

Also, I updated my avatar, something I didn’t think you could even do anymore.

A quick side note. One of my favorite things from this current generation of gaming is when a game, such as Gears of War 4 or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, comes out with new Achievements, recognizes you already did the work to pop ’em, and grants you them with glee from the moment you next sign into the game. That’s happened recently, and I’ve also been noodling away at Anodyne, which I will say nothing else of here except that is a game that deserves its own post and exhaustive breakdown because…hoo boy. Also, playing a bunch of Fortnite, but because there’s no Achievements for the Battle Royale mode, that’s not a real thing.

I’m currently almost a thousand points ahead of 100,000 and not even thinking about the next milestone. It’s been a fun journey, starting way back in February 2010 on the ol’ Xbox 360, but I have other issues to concern myself with at the moment. Thanks for coming along with me nonetheless. I’m sure I’ll find some other dumb thing to focus on down the road. Until then, readers…

State of Decay 2, the categorical and harsh suffer sim

I never played the original State of Decay, but I really wanted to. On paper, it sounded challenging, but rewarding, putting you firmly into that fantastic scenario we all ponder now and again, thanks to so much post-apocalyptic media in our lives: how would you survive in a world gone to shit? I know I personally wouldn’t last long due to my lack of cardio and upper-body strength, but I’d hope I could contribute to a community in other ways. Either by organizing our rations and inventory or even just making sure people knew what goals needed to be accomplished and by when. Still, eventually, I’d be zombie food. Or even a zombie myself.

So far, for my little community in State of Decay 2, despite things going pretty poorly from time to time, no one has died (editor’s note: I wrote this sentence almost three months ago, but as of mid-September I have had a member die out in the field trying to take on an infestation by himself, insert sad face here). I take great pride in this because there’s been some seriously close calls. However, Choe, our resident nurse, got frustrated with the lack of medicine and eventually left the group. Otherwise, I’ve been able to keep people somewhat satisfied, even if morale is constantly bouncing between stable and poor and nobody wants to be on latrine duty.

It’s not one hundred percent fun to play, and I constantly feel like I’m just treading water and making very little progress. The area around my tiny community is mostly cleared out of zombies, but keeping my group of people healthy and happy is a constant task that never seems to churn out great results. Basically, I pick a spot on the map to investigate, take a friend with me, use our only car which is damaged and low on gas, go kill a few zombies, and discover, if at most, a few items to bring back, but mostly an empty shack or house. Rucksacks are the most important thing to find, but they are few and far between, so I’ve been relying mostly on calling in special drops to pick up…which feels a little like cheating sometimes.

Fast forward to now-ish, and I basically haven’t played the game in a few months…for specific reasons. Well, I noticed that a new piece of DLC came out recently called Daybreak, and it is part of the season pass which I guess I purchased at some point. It’s a brand-new game mode for State of Decay 2 completely separate from your base community. Basically, it’s a re-playable co-op “zombie siege” experience, something akin to Horde mode in Gears of War 4. You and up to three teammates play as elite Red Talon soldiers, armed with potent high-end weaponry. Working together, you must defend a fortified position where a technician needs time to repair a critical satellite relay. You’ll have to survive seven waves of increasingly difficult swarms of zombies, including the brand new blood plague juggernaut, with the ultimate goal being keeping the technician alive. Do that, and you win.

Between each wave, you can run out into the woods to pick up more ammo, weapons, and wall repair kits from CLEO drops. You only have two minutes though to grab what you can before a new wave deploys upon your small fortress. What I really like about playing Daybreak is that you earn weapons–melee, guns, and tossed explosives–to use in both further attempts at the DLC, but also in the main State of Decay 2 mode. You can even earn the opportunity to recruit a Red Talon soldier into your base community. I’ve attempted keeping the technician alive twice now–first time, we were successful, and the second time, he got killed in the final wave. Either way, it’s a pretty fun mode that, thanks to you earning new gear and being able to bring it back to your main game mode, feels more connected than it probably needed to be, even if it feels a little repetitive.

I do look forward to playing more, but a part of me now just wants to unlock all the best gear and weapons first in Daybreak and then start a new community over, especially since I just lost Mike who was suppose to become my group’s leader. At some point, I’ll have to avenge his death, take back all his good gear, and focus on someone else to take the lead, but even the thought of that currently doesn’t fill me with excitement. In the end, that’s kind of what State of Decay 2 is, a game I both want to play and stay far away from because it is draining. I now know why people refer to it as a suffer sim…you do it to yourself, really.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #38 – Korgan (Prologue)

Impending evil
Use three characters to fight
First bite free, don’t eat

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.

Life never really finds a way in LEGO Jurassic World

It used to feel good to hit 100.0% completion in these sundry LEGO games. It was a victory well-earned, through being meticulous and dedicated and clever. You go back into levels you already played, now with a crew of varying abilities and skills, and you’d do things you were unable to prior, truly experiencing everything the level had to offer. Alas, the last few LEGO games I’ve played, specifically LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, have turned it into a real chore. I’m saddened to say that LEGO Jurassic World is also now a part of this troublesome family, and methinks this just may be the way all future LEGO games go, so allow me to predict now that I will greatly enjoy my first few hours with LEGO The Incredibles, but will be busted by the end of it. Sigh.

You may recall that I actually already played through LEGO Jurassic World some years back. Well, that was the Nintendo 3DS version, and I found it…underwhelming. A part of me hoped that its bigger console version would remedy some of the issues I had with it on handheld, and it does, but that still doesn’t mean it’s the best of the bunch and not without its own set of problems. Mel and I played it together, and that’s always fun, but the grind after completing all the levels to get every last red brick, gold brick, piece of amber, minikit, dinosaur, worker in peril, vehicle, character, and photograph is beginning to wear on my mind.

LEGO Jurassic World, despite its name, covers the first four films in the series, with each movie getting a handful of levels–roughly about 5 or 6–as well as its own minihub area to run around on and dig up collectibles. These levels are bigger and better than the 3DS version, but there’s still too many sections involving running non-stop toward the screen as a dinosaur chases from behind, and these sections are even more frustrating if you miss a collectible. Other than those, the big moments in each movie are tackled and play out, more or less, as one might expect. Traveller’s Tales still infects the narrative with its kooky humor–they love bananas and pigs–but a lot of the dialogue is taken from the movie and its quality is noticeably poor, to the point that I’d rather have this take go back to the silent pantomimed style of earlier LEGO games.

My biggest issue, early on, with LEGO Jurassic World revolved around its hub world maps and how the developers never tell you that you need to interact with a computer terminal to open up fast-traveling waypoints. For a while, I just couldn’t travel to a map area quickly, and my only solution was to load up a level and then save and exit from it, which meant sitting through several loading screens just to pop up on my island of choice. You could say I goofed a bit on that, but the blame could also go on the developers as I don’t recall other LEGO games requiring this. Also, there are multiple layers to each map that you constantly have to click through to exit back to the main game. Not really ideal, when all I wanted to do was drop on a pin on the nearest red brick.

Y’know, a lot of people like to muse about future or potential LEGO games–myself included–and I’m coming to realize that not everything can fit the mold. For instance, I’ve seen a lot of clamoring for things like LEGO Jaws and LEGO James Bond. The problem is that, often times, there’s just not enough excitement there to warrant games in these franchises. For instance, say there was a LEGO Jaws, you would get a handful of named and well-liked characters to play as, but then you’d have to spend all your time unlocking upwards of 50 no-namers like Ben Gardner or Harry Meadows, and their abilities, unlike superheroes, would be beyond bland, like interviewing witnesses or using fishing rods. That happened here in LEGO Jurassic World, wherein I mostly played as only the main characters from the films via the top two rows of the character select screen and touched nobody else except for Mr. DNA and a dinosaur when a puzzle required it…because nobody else seemed all that exciting to control, and there’s next to no experimenting.

If you are nostalgic for things adjacent to Jurassic Park, I wouldn’t recommend this. If anything, watch the films again. I have recently and can continue to put them high up on a pedestal, beacons of fun storytelling and lovable characters. Sure, you don’t get to bounce around as an ultra cute and tiny velociraptor, but that’s probably the only noteworthy difference between the films and the games. Heck, go back and play Jurassic Park on the SNES if you want something super engaging and full of tension though, in my heart of hearts, I know that those first-person sections do not hold up.

Korgan’s an uninspired dungeon-crawler, but easy 1,000 Gamerscore

There are a lot of free games floating around like tiny desperate dust motes up in the digital entertainment industry’s night sky these days. Many more than a couple years ago. Some are good, some are great, and many are bad, hastily put together and thrown into the wild in hopes of earning money or a fanbase or anything at all. I’ve been able to get a lot of mileage out of many of these freebies; for instance, according to my Xbox app, I put about 58 hours total into Fallout Shelter. Other free adventures that I continue to poke and prod at include Gems of War, Fortnite, and Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle. Alas, Korgan is not one of the good ones, sitting nearly at the bottom of the barrel, with its only saving grace being that it has a relatively easy number of Achievements to pop, if that is something you care about.

Korgan is an episodic dungeon-crawler from Codestalkers, and you can play the prologue chapter for free, which takes maybe two to three hours to get through, depending on how thorough you want to be. I recall zero details about the plot of this stock fantasy-driven adventure, but I’m sure it involves some sort of ancient evil or shadow group trying to spread chaos and monsters across the world, leaving it up to a trio of do-gooders to set things right. You can freely switch between these three heroes to face enemies or obstacles; the titular Korgan is an up-close dwarven warrior that uses axes and mallets for damage. As for Sedine and Meldie, well…I’m too annoyed at the game to look up much more, so one of them is a floating mage-lady, and the other is a hat-wearing hunter that uses a bow and arrow. I’ll let you decide who gets what name, even though it doesn’t matter one lick.

Naturally, each character has their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and you could combine attacks together for more damage, such as freezing as enemy with the mage and switching to the axe-wielding hero for extra damage…except I never felt the need to do this. You can skate by on using one character until his or her health is almost gone, and then switch to the next one. If one character loses all of his or health, it’s not the worst thing in the world–you are zipped back to the start of the level, but most of your progress has been saved, meaning death has no real consequence besides it now taking you longer to uninstall Korgan after getting through the prologue.

The game and gameplay is barbarously boring, almost to the point that I have nothing to say of it. It’s generic hack-and-loot, with paint-by-the-number quests that culminate in droll boss fights that, for some reason, were set to auto-record on the Xbox One. The subpar elements of Korgan that truly stand out to me are around its design and UI decisions. For instance, the developers thought that clicking in the right stick and holding it for upwards of 15 seconds would be perfect for actions like reading text on monuments, searching areas for clues, and destroying traps. It’s slow and not fun on one’s hand, and I eventually avoided doing it if I could. Hitting the Y button switches between your three characters, but it’s also the button to hit for looting all items as opposed to selecting them one by one, and since I never got the impression there was an inventory limit I looted each and every piece of gear I could fine…but sometimes, instead of looting, I’d accidentally switch to someone else.

Here’s something else I didn’t grok, but maybe I was half-asleep. Each of the three characters share a single XP bar that fills up as you complete side quests, break down traps, and kill enemies. However, as far as I can tell, only the character you are actively controlling at the time when the XP bar hits the max amount levels up and gets a skill point to spend. Because of this, though I did use all three characters, I ended up putting the most points into the mage’s spells and found her to thus be the most effective when it came to dealing damage. Except some enemies were immune to her attacks, and that sucked because Korgan and the other one were not as leveled as the mage. It also didn’t help that the UI for inventory and equipping potions, armor, and weapons was clunky and confusing. That said, the skill tree upgrades are as bland as unbuttered bread, and you never truly feel like the character is growing in strength or power.

Look, you might like Korgan. It might very well be your first taste of a dungeon crawler with gear to pick up. And if you do, that’s great, because the first nibble is free, and there’s more content coming. I believe you can jump right into chapter one if you are champing at the bit. However, I found the slow combat, poor controls, and uninteresting progression and loot to be too underwhelming, and I just don’t care about anything now. In fact, I’m going to continue living life believing that all three heroes fell down a dark crevasse and got swallowed up by the earth, never to be seen or heard from again. Oh well.