Category Archives: xbox one

One Leaves wants you to know it’s not too late to quit smoking

I’m not a smoker, but I did try a cigarette in high school–thanks, peer pressure!–and found it to be a terrible experience. I immediately began coughing uncontrollably, doubled over, and have never smoked another cig since. Sure, I’ve had some pot and cigars at various points in my life, but those are much different beasts to me, and I’m not addicted to them so many years later.

One Leaves‘ entire narrative is wrapped around quitting smoking, how smoking is bad for your health, and how badly it affects the body. I agree; don’t do it. There’s also elements of tobacco-related death in the game, with a theme that uses statistics to relay the fact that the few who start smoking rarely ever give up. I’ll credit the game for this because it is an important message that any smoker should hear. Alas, it’s difficult to take the game’s message very seriously at all due to how it plays and treats the player.

One Leaves starts out by placing you in a cage. Here, you’ll see three other characters in cages of their own. Each of you has a door to enter, which is locked until an audio message tells you that only one of you will escape. Hence, the game’s title. The moment the door opens, you’re free to patrol the game’s confined environments at your own pace though I guess the point is to move face and with urgency. You’ll immediately see a locked gate that has some power cables running from it. The goal is to follow each cable until you meet its puzzle; solve said puzzle, and move on to the next one until you reach the final area, which is a randomized maze to navigate.

There’s no shortage of framerate issues to contend with, as well as regular crashing and kicks to the Xbox One’s dashboard, which, for a free game isn’t the worst thing ever, but it also isn’t great either. Visually, One Leaves is ugly, complete with poor lighting, bland textures, and a lackluster presentation. The game’s audio work is also subpar.

Alas, I didn’t make it through the final maze quick enough, and so I’m stuck in One Leaves‘ smoky purgatory until another contestant tries to make an escape. Until then, I guess I’ll just hold my breath.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #38 – One Leaves

Smoking is bad, duh
Escape the maze, run don’t cough
Addiction is death

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.

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.

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.