Category Archives: xbox one

Over the weekend, I played Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for free and found it to be okay

I don’t normally partake in many “free game weekends,” usually because I am too busy with other stuff to find the time to start something new, but also because I don’t like the pressure it puts upon me to hurry up and see as much content before this thing goes away in two days. That said, this past weekend, you could play Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for free as a promotion to up some pre-orders for the forthcoming Borderlands 3, and I decided to jump in. I’ve already played a skag-ton of Borderlands 2, but I never got to try the other one when it came out a few years back.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel begins some time after Borderlands 2 and Episode 3 of the subsequent game Tales from the Borderlands, on the flying city of Sanctuary, where the three former Vault Hunters Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai interrogate the ex-Atlas assassin Athena after having captured her from the Atlas Domes. Athena recounts her story, starting after the death of General Knoxx, when she received an offer to go find a Vault on Pandora’s moon, Elpis, from a Hyperion programmer named Jack. She joins fellow Vault Hunters Claptrap, Nisha, Wilhelm, Timothy (a doppelganger of Jack), and Aurelia on a spaceship headed for the Hyperion moon base Helios. On the way, they are ambushed by the Lost Legion, an army of Dahl soldiers led by Colonel Tungsteena Zarpedon, and crash-land onto the moon base. After meeting up with Jack, they attempt to use Helios’ defense system, but realizes there is a jamming signal coming from Elpis. They attempt to escape, but they are stopped by Zarpedon, along with a mysterious alien-like warrior. Jack sends the Vault Hunters to Elpis via a moonshot rocket.

It’s perfectly fine. To me, it mostly comes across as just another entry in the series, and you could play any of them and have basically the same experience of killing monsters and discovering a thousand different guns, shields, and grenades to equip. The only difference from one to another is really how the Vault Hunters play, and for this one I went with Athena. She’s a gladiator, first seen as an NPC in The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC. She uses her Kinetic Aspis shield to block enemy attacks and can return the damage collected by her shield by throwing it at an enemy. I followed the Phalanx tree for upgrades, which focuses on combat support and improves the offensive and defensive capabilities of the Aspis.

Here’s the thing I disliked most about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel–the oxygen meter. See, most of the gameplay takes place on a moon or in outer space somewhere, and so, instead of just giving every Vault Hunter a spacesuit you must now pay attention to an oxygen meter. Run out of it, and your health begins to deplete. There are certain areas that refill your oxygen, but it just becomes a pain and one thing extra to monitor along with your shield and health bars. Plus, if you want to use a jump boost or ground pound move, it depletes the oxygen meter too. I’m not a fan of it and often found myself relaxing more once inside a building and not having to worry about it.

I’m now left with the choice to purchase Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and keep playing…or just wait for Borderlands 3 to come out. I think I’ll do the latter. Besides, I still have stuff to do in Borderlands 2 if I want a little more action.

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Celeste: jump up, jump up, and get down

I went into Celeste with hesitation. It’s a splatformer, also know as an extremely difficult type of action platformer, and while I somehow was able to beat Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, I’ve never been great at these games. They require steady fingers and precise timing and, above all, patience, a quality I pride myself on having…but only to a point. For instance, I really don’t like unnecessarily aggressive drivers; here, let me tell you a recent story of an interaction I had the other week. A light was turning yellow, and I didn’t believe I could make it through so I slowed and stopped just as it turned red. The car behind me was annoyed at this; the driver was a middle-aged man on his cell phone, and he threw his unoccupied hand up in disgust and then flipped me the middle finger. My response? I waved cheerfully at him. There’s just no need for any of that, sir.

Anyways, Celeste is a platformer in which players control a girl named Madeline as she makes her way up a mountain while avoiding various deadly obstacles, such as spike pits and shadow beings. Along with jumping and climbing up walls for a limited amount of time, Madeline has the ability to perform a mid-air dash in the eight cardinal and intercardinal directions. This move can only be performed once and must be replenished by either landing on the ground, hitting certain objects, such as replenishing crystals, or moving to a new screen. Throughout each level, the player will encounter additional mechanics, such as springs that launch the player or feathers that allow for moments of brief flight.

Celeste is at its core a 2D platformer–you run, jump, climb walls, and air-dash. There’s no picking up special items, upgrading stats, or finding costumes that give you the power to shoot lightning from your hands or spit fireballs. You may occasionally grab strawberries, which are mostly collectibles to boast about your excellent masochistic platforming skills. They serve no greater purpose than tempting you to perform non-mandatory challenges liberally sprinkled onto each stage, and I’ve gotten a few here and there, but have no intention of going after all of them, as some definitely look extremely tricky to grab.

Here’s some light praise: Celeste has some of the best 2D pixel art I’ve ever seen. Clearly inspired by the sprites of the SNES era, the characters and environments are both vibrant and memorable, adding a beauty to a genre known for being somewhat ugly or more focused on killing you so quickly you have no time to take anything in. These gorgeous visuals are backed by a soundtrack from Lena Raine, whose synthy chiptune beats will time travel you back to the days off Donkey Kong Country and, more recently, Fez and FTL: Faster Than Light. Lastly, the adventure is constructed together by a low-poly 3D model of Celeste Mountain that helps to convey the scale and trajectory of the climb, as well as serving as a level select.

I’m not that far in Celeste, just a couple chapters, and a part of me worries that it is only going to get more difficult as I climb higher. I mean, that would only make sense; games often ease you into the challenge, unless you are Dark Souls then there are no rules. Still, there’s something called Assist Mode, which I may need to look into further. Evidently, there’s a handful of options available to cycle through at will, like becoming invincible, extending the all-important air dash ability, and slowing the whole game down in 10% intervals. Assist Mode allows for any combination of these to work at any time; for example, if my redheaded-climber keeps landing on spikes, I could just turn her invincible for a hot second to alleviate the pain and bypass the obstacle, and while some might see this as cheating or cheesing the game…I certainly don’t. In fact, this type of stuff allows me to experience more of the game, which is a good thing.

With that, I can hear the mountain calling me back. May I reach its top in due time, all in one piece, perhaps with a strawberry or two to munch on along the way. Perhaps.

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.

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:

2019 Game Review Haiku, #28 – Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion

Simple RPG
Based on Adventure Time show
Sail to boredom land

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.

Batten down the hatches for Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion

I believe I have seen exactly one episode of Adventure Time, and I wasn’t even paying that close attention to it. Oh well. I understand it is beloved and for both kids and adults, but it is just something I never got deep into. Same goes for similar shows, such as Steven Universe, Regular Show, and Gravity Falls. When it comes to the Cartoon Network, I’m mostly only about that super stylish and cool-as-heck Samurai Jack. Oh, and I’ll still occasionally plop down on the couch and fall into a The Fairly OddParents hole, glory be to the being up above; I’m a big fan of Wanda.

Still, that’s not going to stop me from playing an RPG based on Adventure Time, which brings us to Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion. It’s one of the freebies for Gold users on Xbox One this month, and I love freebies like Princess Bubblegum loves…um, bubblegum. That’s a broad assumption. See? I know nothing about this world and its inhabitants. Honestly, after a good nine to ten hours with the game, I still know very little. Everything just seems odd for odd’s sake, but maybe that’s the whole point. Moving along…

Our main protagonists Finn the Human and Jake the Dog begin Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion by exploring the never-before-seen Ocean of Ooo after their home mysteriously floods overnight. The look of the ocean and map gives off an illusion of vastness, filling you with hope that this is gonna be an epic adventure in the vein of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker or The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, but that is sadly not the case at all. In short, it is more of an overworld map or a hub for smaller levels, and you can only travel to so many spots to dock your boat. The worse part is there is no fast travel system, and it takes a long time to get from one island to another across the nearly barren waters that it just results in a lot of boring boating.

As this is an RPG, combat plays a pivotal role in the gameplay. Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion goes the turn-based route, and it is pretty similar to things like Costume Quest 2, Earthlock: Festival of Magic, and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Your party is made up of stereotypical RPG archetypes, such as the tank, support, and DPS characters. The battles are rarely challenging and border on the edge of tedious; unfortunately, there’s no difficulty setting to raise the bar a bit. You can select a basic attack, a special attack, block, use an item, or run away; there’s also an ultimate attack for each character that builds up over time. For general upgrades to your stats and abilities, you’ll collect money–I think it is called dosh here–from chests, destroying in-world items, and winning battles. You then spend the hard-earned coin on whatever you want to upgrade, and I will tell you now to never put a dime into the block ability…because blocking in Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion, like in many other RPGs of this ilk, is basically pointless. Never burn a turn, always deal damage or attempt to.

BMO, which is a living video game console system and not the Bank of Montreal, basically breaks the game, and you get them in your party after a couple of hours. They are a support character that can boost a shared power bar for the party that allows more special moves to be performed, which combined with Jake’s or Finn’s attacks that hit multiple enemies in one turn really puts you on top of every fight. There are bosses, but I never felt afraid of losing to them; instead, it felt more like a fight of attrition and seeing how long I could last, with bosses often healing themselves or summoning fodder minions to fight before damaging them more. I also didn’t unlock every special ability for each character; these are usually given out as rewards for side quests, but I felt fine going forward with what I had and just spent dosh making sure I was dealing the most damage with these abilities as possible.

Honestly, Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion is fairly simple and easy as far as a game goes, and you are given more options than you truly need, especially when it comes to items. My bag is stuffed to the brim with strangely-named items, many of which I collected early on and never even used once by the final boss fight. Unfortunately, the enemies never become too much of a challenge to require throwing down offensive and defensive buffs, and the only items I used and spent money on were ones that healed my party members. Also, the game has some performance issues, hitching often when out on the ocean and passing through a loading screen section. Sometimes sound effects can be heard before a fight even commences. Side quests are finicky, with some needing to be re-triggered for them to get completed.

Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion turned out to be okay at best. If anything, it has perhaps inspired me to seek out an episode or two of the animated show to watch, and here’s hoping it is more exciting than a flooded world, which, by the end, I still never understood the reasoning behind the villain’s motives. I really like BMO and Marceline, based on what I saw here. Anyways, I 100%-ed the game, unlocking all Achievements, and have removed it from my Xbox One. Stay tuned for its arresting haiku.

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.