See what horrors The Doll Shop holds at your own risk

Naturally, I was drawn to The Doll Shop for its beautiful watercolor artwork and depiction of life in the Japanese countryside, not its focus on dolls. I’m not into dolls in general, but I’m really not into dolls that look like little children or come alive and are violent. Maybe I watched Child’s Play when I was too young or maybe I still can’t get that episode of The Twilight Zone out of my head where a ventriloquist’s doll is both alive and neglected, replaced by one called Goofy Goggles, and exacts revenge on his master by flipping their roles; that said, I’m perfectly fine with nesting dolls. Either way, they aren’t for me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t for others. Such as the main protagonist in The Doll Shop, a young man in his twenty-somethings that repairs dolls for a living, though I don’t think we ever learn his name…

The Doll Shop comes from Atelier Sentô, which is a French duo, specifically Cécile Brun and Olivier Pichard. Their work is often based on their travels throughout Japan. This one is set in a small, desolate village during the winter. The village is still reeling from a girl disappearing weeks ago, but life goes on, especially for our leading lad, who is repairing broken dolls while also collecting butterflies in his shop’s back room. However, he is harboring a great and terrible secret, and when a childhood friend returns to the village and reconnects with him, he finds himself unable to not contain what he has done.

The game is a mix of horror, romance, and light puzzle solving. It’s both a point-and-click adventure and visual novel, and the game offers you several choices to make throughout your days in this cold, dark village. These will affect your ending, of which there are three to see, and you can also collect posters as you explore around. The only tedious part of The Doll Shop is when you have to constantly dip your paintbrush in the paint after each action you take to fix the doll, but that’s a minor complaint at best. Everything else is sublime and beautifully done, though I do wish there was more things to click on and get descriptions of, especially when it comes to things like bath-houses and shrines, which, as an American who has never really left the country, except to go to Canada, I do not have a lot of experience with.

The graphics for The Doll Shop were hand-painted with watercolors by twenty-three students over three days in January 2018 during a workshop at the ECV art school in Bordeaux, France. Each student selected a part of the background, such as a tree, house, or mountain, and drew a sketch of it on paper. Next, they used a light pad and an 8B pencil to copy it on to watercolor paper. After that, the drawings were painted with watercolors. Finally, all the drawings were scanned, cut out on Photoshop, and incorporated into the game, which was made in Unity with the Adventure Creator add-on. The results are simply stunning, both in motion and as simple stills; I personally loved the look of all the buildings as I explored the village while the snowfall changed from light to heavy and back to light, all backed by a wonderfully quiet yet atmospheric soundtrack.

Anyways, just like with every Metal Gear Solid game, you get a progress screen at the end to tell you how you did and what is left to uncover. If I was to make up a title based on my work, I’d say I earned Gossamer-winged Butterfly. Right. Moving on, my results after the first playthrough of The Doll Shop are as follows:

I don’t plan to replay The Doll Shop. My story is my story, and those choices I made are locked in place. Ending B is all she wrote. I tried to play the main protagonist as a broken man breaking down, desperate for help, but sometimes unable to speak the words. He did terrible things and is terribly troubled, and soon everyone will know. I hope he gets help, and I mourn for those in mourning, now burdened with extra trauma. Yet another doll story to forever stay in my mind and haunt me for years to come. Thanks, Atelier Sentô.


Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – In Space We Brawl

This won’t be a long post, I promise.

In Space We Brawl is a twin-stick shooter that clearly wants you to play locally with a bunch of buddies next to you on the couch. I have no such buddies, nor enough PlayStation 3 controllers to do such a thing, which is why I was also quick to remove things like Atomic Ninjas and Starwhal. Local multiplayer matches allow for up to four players, and you can even put together teams. There are more than 150 combinations of weapons, such as laser cannons, plasma swords, flame launchers, and guided missiles, and ships to try out. Each map is full of obstacles to also avoid too, such as asteroids and black holes.

I first did a few of the “challenges,” which are more or less tutorials. The writing around these is snarky and somewhat aggressive, like when the game congratulates me on being able to use my thumbs to move the ship around. Gee, thanks. I’m not a big fan of being made fun of when trying to have fun playing a game, and I’ve seen this type of snark too often lately. It’s becoming exhausting, if I’m being honest, and it just feels lazy overall.

You can add bots and adjust their difficulty to your matches if you don’t have anyone else to play with, which I did. I left them on “medium” difficulty and found myself exploding every few seconds. I also didn’t find the shooting very satisfactory or even effective, but maybe I attached the worst gun in the game or something. Either way, I didn’t have a good time, and so that was it for me and In Space We Brawl.

Remember, in space, no one can hear you uninstalling a game from your PlayStation 3.

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.

It’s undoubtedly time to put my Wii U out to pasture

When the news hit in September 2018’s Nintendo Direct that a brand-new Animal Crossing was coming to the Nintendo Switch in 2019, I immediately told Melanie this: “Well, looks like I need to buy a Switch next year.” Sure, sure, there are plenty of other Switch-only games I’ve been wanting to play, such as Super Mario Odyssey, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee!, and Octopath Traveler, but nothing has gotten me as excited as the prospect of losing myself once more into the world of chattering animals, larger-than-life debts, and a thousand and one things to collect. Plus, similar to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, this is playable on the go, which is how I’ve always preferred to play; sorry about that, Animal Crossing: City Folk.

That, unfortunately, means the Wii U needs to go into storage. Why, you so nicely ask? Well, I only have so much space in our entertainment center, and right now the three slots are taken up by our cable box, the Xbox One, and the sadly underused Wii U. My PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, and Xbox 360 (also now basically unused due to the solid amount of backwards-compatible games on the Xbox One), along with my NES Classic, are upstairs in my office/drawing space. Now, my Wii U library is quite small, tiny enough that I don’t feel odd listing every single game I own for it right here and now, both digitally and on disc:

Honestly, originally, I only bought a Wii U for Wii Fit U, as I was trying to work some exercise into my life at the time, and I’d rather gamify working out than go to a gym and feel super not confident on machines and such. It came with a copy of New Super Mario Bros. U/New Super Luigi U, though I don’t know if I played it at all yet since getting my Wii U back in…oh my god, 2014. This is probably the most underused console I’ve ever owned, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seeing the most action on it, followed by Super Mario Maker and the Netflix app. Yikes on that last part.

Since the Wii U is backwards compatible with the Wii, though you still have to use the sensor bar and keep those WiiMotes full of fresh batteries, which is beyond exhausting, I’ll list all my Wii games too that will eventually just go into storage soon, many of which I haven’t even played once, ugh, because I’m a terrible gamer-man:

Some of these I’ve played and already written about here on Grinding Down, but I just don’t know if I will ever to get trying them all out. Which is a dang shame, especially for Super Paper Mario and MySims Agents, which, of the latter, is completely different than the version I played on the Nintendo 3DS. Same goes for The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest, though this would be my third variation of that game (one on the PlayStation 2, and one on the Nintendo DS).

Either way, I’m going to try to milk out a few more posts about some of these games before eventually boxing them up and, most likely, never seeing them again.

Stay tuned.

Bandido wants you to stop a prisoner from escaping

I’ve never been to prison, and I hope to never go to prison, but there is a small piece of me that fantasizes about pulling the greatest prison escape, one that would make Alcatraz Island weep. Bandido, designed by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and put out by Helvetiq, is not actually about escaping, but rather preventing a prisoner from seeing blue sky and green hills ever again by blocking all passageways, forcing him back to his cell to continue counting the days.

To begin a game of Bandido, you place the Super Card. which is the one showing the prisoner in jail with multiple exit points, in the middle of the table, shuffle up the remaining cards, and deal three cards to each player. That’s all there is to begin the game, and I appreciate that, especially when things like One Deck Dungeon, Fallout: The Board Game, and even Friday take a good amount of organization to set everything up before you can begin playing.

On each player’s turn, you’ll place one card down so at least one tunnel is connected to an existing tunnel and then draw a new card. The one main rule is that you can’t block off any of the tunnels with walls when you’re placing a card; everything has to fit and connect. Only cards showing a dead end, represented by a circle and a hand holding a flashlight, can truly end a good-going tunnel. That said, there are a couple of other cards that basically form a loop that connects multiple tunnels together, and those too can block tunnels off. You win if you’re able to block all of the tunnels, and you lose if there are any open tunnels by the time you’ve gone through the deck or if you are unable to play any more cards.

In terms of complexity, there’s really not much to Bandido. The only strategic decision you ever have to make generally involves when to branch out to avoid cutting yourself off and when to tighten things up so that you can try to narrow multiple paths of exit down into just one or two manageable ones. This isn’t always easily done based on the cards in your hand and requires some table talk to try to figure out the most effective card placements. You can play it solo, but Bandido is better with more people, because it is more of a cooperative game that really makes you care about the outcome as a group. Sometimes you need to be aggressive and say things like, “Oh, don’t play a card there, I have a perfect one for it next turn.”

I tried playing it solo a few times, never winning a single game. Then Melanie and I played it twice the other day, winning the first game where the Super Card had only five exits, and losing horribly the second game with six exit options. Still, it is a good amount of fun, and the game is quick to set up, quick to break down, and small enough to fit in your pocket. The only real problem, much like Okey Dokey, is that is takes up a lot of table space, especially once the tunnels begin to get out of hand; a few times, we had to shift all the cards down on the table to make room for more growth, and that’s a touchy process, trying not to mess up the placement of all the cards in play.

Bandido isn’t a big game, but it doesn’t want to be. The rules are relatively simple to follow, and because the cards have no text on them, anyone can quickly learn how to play and see what to do next. For that, I really like it, and hope to stop the titular criminal from breaking free the next time we play it.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Unmechanical: Extended

I’ve tried playing through Unmechanical twice now, once on the PC and the second time on my PlayStation 3 with the Unmechanical: Extended edition. I feel like I got as far as I did in both games, which was not very far along if I’m being honest, stopping around the same point, somewhere deep in the mines section. I really wanted to like this puzzle-topia starring an ultra cute robot, but the puzzles eventually became too much for my tiny brain to figure out. Some are logical, and some are physics-based, but if all I’m doing is looking up solution after solution online, I don’t see the point of playing a game at all.

Unmechanical: Extended is a somewhat enhanced version of the original game, with an additional episode included to complete. This is first and foremost a puzzle adventure that combines tricky puzzle solving, exploration, and an engrossing if depressing atmosphere set amid tubes and machinery and underground tunnels. Taking place in a world of flesh, rock, and steel, your robot’s journey to freedom requires you to solve a great variety of puzzling challenges. Alas, my robot friend will never be free, and for that I am deeply sorry.

The controls aren’t too complicated. There are only three real options when you are controlling your robot buddy: moving it with the joystick, pushing a button to get a basic hint, and every other button on your controller activates your tractor beam; however, you have to hold down the button to keep your tractor beam engaged, and the beam can help move objects or activate levers. Some puzzles are self-contained in solitary rooms, while others are spread out across multiple areas, requiring you to travel back and forth, which can be quite frustrating and confusing, depending on the state of your memory.

Unmechanical: Extended is actually more than frustrating. Talawa Games clearly knows how to craft intricate puzzles, but the reliance on backtracking is a big ol’ bummer. The game’s world could have been a little more fleshed out, and the environments and additional robot critters all look rather bland or same-y. I don’t think I could really tell you what the actual plot is other than…escaping something, and maybe the additional content explores this further. It also sounds like there’s little to no replay value here, not that I’ll ever know. Lastly, the hint system. This should theoretically help players move forward, but the hints appear as thought bubbles or sometimes just a question mark, which feels too obtuse more than helpful.

Maybe one day I’ll give this another go, though I suspect I’ll get about halfway in and then give up because I just don’t have the energy to watch YouTube walkthroughs for the more complicated and involved puzzles. Sorry, Unmechanical: Extended, I just don’t have the energy.

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, #5 – The Doll Shop

Desolate village
Dolls are family, secrets
Charmingly creepy

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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Hustle Kings

As a young lad growing up in Smithville, NJ, I lived just down the road from our local community swimming pool and clubhouse. No, really, I could walk there in about five minutes tops, and there was a path behind a neighbor’s house that lead through a stretch of woods that I became quickly familiar with once I had a bicycle and a job at the ice cream parlor appropriately named Scoops. I’d often go to the clubhouse by myself and play pool; hey, it’s easier to play pool solo than it is ping pong. And for those that don’t know, pool is a cue sports played on a table with six pockets along the rails, into which balls are deposited. There are many variations to try, but I’m most comfortable playing eight-ball or nine-ball or just failing hard at trick shots.

Moving on, Hustle Kings is a pool game, and, based on what I learned from the training events section, a rather complicated one…if you want it to be. The game features lush, photo-realistic visuals and 3D gameplay to ensure that a digital game of pool feels just like the real thing, minus the smoky environment and stench of beer-drenched college-goers. When you’re ready, you can even test your skills against fellow fans and wannabe hustlers via online multiplayer matches. Or maybe not, anymore, as I was glancing at a Trophy guide and noticed that servers for the PlayStation 3 version are no longer functioning. Biggest shrug ever.

Some of the things you can do to enhance your pool game other than just hit the cue ball with your stick is putting backspin on it or honing your shot for the best angle or learning how to curve around a specific ball to hit another one into the pocket. It’s a lot of setting up your shot and then hoping everything works out okay; there’s several different camera views to help with this minutiae. I played a couple of free play games and did almost none of this and had a decent time still popping billiard balls into pockets, all while avoiding the eight ball until the very end. I will admit to using the hone shot option a lot because, just like in Peggle, it’s good to know how the ball will move from this singular action.

I honestly don’t have too much to say about Hustle Kings; it’s probably fine, and if you are a big pool fan, you’ll love how intricate your shots can become. For me, it’s too much, and now I’m trying to find this old Flash-based pool game I used to play online while avoiding work at an office gig back in the heydays. This is, not surprisingly, an impossible task, as there are countless online pool games you can play, and many of them all look the same. If you know any late 1990s/early 2000s online pool games that might be what I’m talking about, hit it up in the comments below.

Hustle Kings, side pocket, don’t chicken bone this cinch. Yes, I totally looked up a list of pool terms.

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.