2019 Game Review Haiku, #34 – The Tragic Tale of Bark Scruffalo

Protect your doggy
From monoliths, enemies
Act fast, drop mines, live

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.

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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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Dragon Fin Soup

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Y’all know I love a good, strange-as-heck videogame title, and Dragon Fin Soup is a wonderful example of such a beauty. One, it contains the word dragon, so I’m already intrigued, but it also sounds more like a fancy, medieval recipe than a tactical RPG mixed with roguelike elements and procedurally generated worlds. It tells you nothing about the game, but entices you to check it out nonetheless, which is exactly what I did…many years ago. According to my save file, I played 21 minutes and 51 seconds total. Well, let’s revisit the abnormal critter once more now in 2019 before I get to the uninstalling part.

Dragon Fin Soup stars Red Robin, a charming, yet raging alcoholic bounty hunter who would rather get into a bar fight than deliver baked goods. Players must take up Robin’s blades and set out across Asura, a lushly colorful fantasy world that sits on the back of an enormous space turtle–um, was Terry Pratchett okay with this?–on a journey to discover the secrets of her bloody past. That’s the setup, and it’s pretty interesting; at least our protagonist isn’t an amnesiac for no reason whatsoever. I’m just not sure how much like a twisted version of Red Riding Hood she is supposed to be…

Okay, now I remember what my initial problem with Dragon Fin Soup was. For some reason, the entire game doesn’t fit on my small, desk TV monitor, with important UI being cut off in the four corners or hard to read entirely. Alas, there is no option within the game to correct this, and I don’t have this problem with any other game on my PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 2…so I’m not sure how to correct it. Grrr. It makes figuring out what is going on a bit difficult, especially returning to the game after so many years away from it. Not impossible, but just more work than I want to put into this thing.

Dragon Fin Soup reminds me a bit of Dungeons of Dredmor, which…was a game I didn’t understand at all during my first few attempts at it. Nowadays, I’m much more familiar with the roguelike genre, but that doesn’t mean I love every game that takes permadeath super seriously or identifying items essential for breathing. For every Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac, there are countless other iterations that take inspiration from the punishing genre and run with it, for better or for worse. I think it is all about feel, and something feels off in Dragon Fin Soup; perhaps it is too much information at once or none at all. Speaking of that…

There’s no tutorial, though there is a dream sequence at the start that immediately throws you into combat. After that, you are left to your own devices, which for me, returning to this after years of being away, did nothing good for me. Dragon Fin Soup is a turn-based strategy game. Each move the player makes gives enemy units a chance to respond. Thankfully, it’s not as slow and laborious as it sounds. In fact, once you get a hang of the game’s rhythm and controls, combat can be fast-paced and frenetic. You’ll need to use a mix of magic, bombs, gunplay, and melee combat to take down your adversaries. I unfortunately didn’t get to see enough to keep me engaged and wanting to explore more or learn about Red Robin’s past.

Maybe in another life, Dragon Fin Soup. You still have a wonderfully odd title, and for that alone I give you all the kudos.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Toy Home

There was a time when Sony was really pushing the Sixaxis controller as the best way to play some of its big name games, such as Lair and Heavenly Sword. Well, Toy Home also uses it, forcing you to tilt left or right to steer your racing vehicle…or shake it violently to get your vehicle to flip over after a crash landing. I’m sure I looked a bit ridiculous doing all of this, but thankfully no one was around to watch me play. It’s gimmicky and not something I’d every really want to use, but alas…I had to.

The goal of Toy Home, which is a digital download only for the PlayStation 3 that came out in December 2007 and does not contain Trophies because it predates the inclusion of ’em, is to simply collect coins, discover hidden medals, and pass every checkpoint, earning 10 seconds for each checkpoint, before times runs out. You also win points by jumping, smashing, and flipping around. There are a total of eight racetracks in the game, all of them taking place in one of the rooms of the house and are filled with obstacles. It initially does feel like you are a kid’s bedroom like in Toy Story, with larger-than-life toys around you to smash into, and the bouncy music really makes you feel like a kid just goofing around with your toys.

There’s a single player mode, along with a multiplayer mode, where up to eight players can battle against each other online, as well as leaderboards, where you can view high scores. Naturally, I didn’t bother trying to play online because I just know how it’s going to go; I can only imagine how empty and lonely that digital realm is for a…twelve-year-old game.

I don’t have much more to say about Toy Home. It’s not a complicated game. It is what it is, a driving collectathon, and that’s fine. The only part I wasn’t enamored with was the control scheme, but I probably could get over it in time. Still, my goal with this project is to play what I can and see if the games hook me hard or are only interesting enough for an hour or so of my gaming time. I don’t see myself devoting much more of my life to Toy Home, sorry to say to all those at SCE and Game Republic.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #33 – Kanji Gakusei

Gotta do homework
Search for paper, find kanji
Learn Japanese words

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.

All I can say about Auf Abwegen is nein, danke

This might sound super obvious, but jumping is essential when it comes to platforming, and Auf Abwegen does not nail the feeling of good, reliable jumping at all. And without being able to jump well and with precision, there is nothing I could do to get away from the pack of bloodhounds chasing me, which is a shame because, for a free thing on Steam, this seemed to have promise from the start. Well, from a narrative perspective, that is. Oh well, you can’t win them all, and that’s something I’m slowly coming to terms with. Not everything can be completed or seen through to conclusion.

Auf Abwegen, which I believe translates from German to “gone astray” or “on the wrong path,” has you controlling a red fox in its natural habitat. This seems to be some kind of VR simulation, played by people up in outer space, with the implication that Earth is no more, and this is one of the ways they can experience what life used to be like on the forgotten planet. It is a one-man project from user Kindman, but there is nothing kind about the threats and frustration you’ll experience in each scenario you come across, whether it is simply learning how to go under tree roots or running so quick that you can’t see what is up ahead.

Evidently, there are three levels to master, but I think the one where the bloodhounds chase you is only the second one. Or it could be the last challenge, but I don’t really know since I couldn’t get past it after 40-plus attempts. Let me describe what you do in parts one and two. It opens with a tutorial section, where you learn how to move the fox; it can jump, crawl under roots, and run. You are then tasked with finding food for your family, and it is up to you to both figure out how and what you want to hunt. I got a mouse, a bird, and an egg, I think, which worked out, but getting these things was no easy task. For instance, there is a section where you are leaping from lily pads to logs to rocks in a small pond. Again, the jumping is so loose and finicky that landing on these tiny platforms is seemingly random. Chasing the mouse requires you to run it down–not sure how this thing made it across the water–and again, running fast and jumping here isn’t ideal.

However, after delivering the food to your wife and cubs–do foxes have cubs?–you enter the chase sequence, and this is where the madness begins. The fox can run fast, so fast that you can’t see what is coming up next. However, you have to keep moving or else. It might be a hedgehog you have to jump over or a gap in the ground, and you have to use lightning-fast reflexes to overcome these obstacles because the bloodhounds are coming, and if they touch you once, you lose and must start all over, bugle call and all. So it then becomes a game of memorization, but even memorizing what is next doesn’t help when the jumping is unreliable. Sure, some deaths I’ll blame on me, but most of them were me squeezing my controller in pure frustration because I had cleared a bunch of obstacles only to jump into a wooden log with branches instead of jumping over it because I didn’t press the button early enough. Ugh, no thanks.

I do dig the look of Auf Abwegen, from its science-heavy computer interface at the start to the hand-painted backgrounds of the forest, backed by a soft, melodic piano-driven soundtrack, minus that annoying bugle call signaling the bloodhounds that it is time to hunt. The cartoony parts, such as the fox and fish and bloodhounds, pop against the backgrounds nicely. There’s some decent voice-acting, though I think it is all in German, but there are subtitles to read, with only a couple of grammar mistakes throughout.

If y’all are feeling nice or masochistic enough to play Auf Abwegen, by all means, give it a shot for free on Steam. And let me know what happens after you get past the bloodhounds. I’m genuinely curious.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #32 – Grimnoir

New cases, Morris
Supernatural at work
Deduce, kill, repeat

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.