All of Spyro: Year of the Dragon’s eggs are up for grabs

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I completed Spyro the Dragon, at 71%, despite the wonky camera, frustrating platforming, and that final fight against Gnasty Gnorc. Then I took on Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, collecting a mighty number of gems, talismans, and orbs. After that, I moved on to Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the third installment in the series despite it missing a number in the title, but alas, I’ve still not finished it off and most likely won’t…well, not the PlayStation 1 classic version I have downloaded on my PlayStation 3. Why, you ask? Well, there’s a little thing called Spyro Reignited Trilogy coming out next month–that’s November, y’all–and I’m mega-stoked to revisit the series with hopefully better controls and camera options. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon opens with a celebration in the land of the dragons, where Spyro and his kin are celebrating the titular “Year of the Dragon,”, an event that occurs every twelve years when new dragon eggs are brought to the realm. However, unfortunately, during the celebration, a cloaked rabbit girl named Bianca invades the Dragon Realms with an army of creatures called Rhynocs and steals all of the dragon eggs. She brings them back to the Sorceress, an evil ruler of all the Forgotten Realms, who scatters the eggs throughout several worlds. Spyro, along with his trusty lifelong pals Sparx and Hunter, are sent to recover the dragon eggs.

Well…my save file says that I’m at 64% completion for Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Go me. That more or less equates to 10,110 out of 15,000 gems and 90 out of 148 dragon eggs, according to the in-game Atlas menu. Which, if I can say, is really handy for tallying up all your accomplishments, along with the objectives still to finish off in each distinct world. This is good information to have because you often need a certain number of dragon eggs to move forward to the next area, and most of them are easy enough to collect, except for the ones based on mini-games, like skating or boxing.

The gameplay is, more or less, the same as the it was in the previous two games. In this one, Spyro will explore over 30 worlds, defeat enemies, complete puzzles, participate in mini-games, and collect eggs and the usual colored gems. He doesn’t have any brand-new moves, but the controls are still fine, if a bit iffy when trying to both charge forward and jump; often, I would just send our poor tiny, purple dragon right off a cliff’s edge. The camera remains a constant opponent. That said, it’s still a lot of fun to explore these worlds and find all the hidden-away gems or see a dragon egg in the distance and figure out how to reach it.

Spyro’s quest to recapture the dragon eggs stolen by the Sorceress is aided by a number of furry and fuzzy friends. Such as Bentley the yeti, Sheila the kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd the flying penguin, and Agent 9, a blaster-wielding space monkey. These characters are represented in unique levels to highlight their different powers and abilities, with puzzles only for them. For example, Sergeant Byrd, has large, open levels to match his ability to fly and long-distance attacks. There’s also Sheila, who has much more vertical levels to make use of her double-jump ability, and these sometimes look like a traditional 2D platformer.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon‘s graphics, sound, and charm all work together to create something special. Yes, even some eighteen years later. The character designs, while low on the polygon count, still show off Insomniac’s knack for creating iconic characters that are the step-stones for what’s to come down the road, namely the Ratchet and Clank series. Honestly, I’m excited to revisit all three games next month, and I promise to get all them dragon eggs back from the Sorceress. Why? Well, mostly because they’ll be tied to Achievements. Ha, I can’t quit caring about those digital bursts of dopamine.

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An abridged version of Final Fantasy XV that I cannot actually fit in my pocket

For a good chunk of my young adult life, I played every new Final Fantasy game that came out, starting naturally with Final Fantasy VII, then the underappreciated Final Fantasy VIII, and next to Final Fantasy IX, a game I only came around to seeing its conclusion a couple years back. I dabbled in a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy X from a friend in my sophomore year of college, but actually was more focused on schoolwork, dating, and being social than playing videogames. Shocking.

And so it went on, with me skipping out on Final Fantasy X-2 and the online-only Final Fantasy XI. I eventually returned to these hallowed grounds after graduating college, moving into a tiny studio apartment near New York City, and not setting up cable or Internet for a couple months because money was an issue. Thankfully, two games kept me quite busy–Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. This is a lot of preamble just to say that the last recent Final Fantasy game I’ve played was Final Fantasy XII back in 2006-ish and that weird side-scrolling beat-em-up…until now.

Yup, move aside official release Final Fantasy XV, with your mega realistic graphics, hours-long epic plotline, and detailed character models and pictures of food that convince you this world and its inhabitants are worth believing in. Because I’m playing Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, which takes a 50-hour console JRPG and re-imagines it as a 10ish-hour mobile game. Except I’ll add one more wrinkle to the mix–I’m playing this on my laptop, not my cell phone. For this to happen, Square Enix naturally had to murder its darlings, cutting back on story, controls, and graphics to deliver a more shortened and laid-back telling of Prince Noctis’s journey to become king. It actually works though, surprise surprise.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition follows the same plot as the original game, as far as I can tell, but eliminates the open world aspect and many sidequests for a more focused experience. Exploration and combat have now been shifted from a behind-the-back view to an isometric overhead perspective with simplified controls more suitable for playing on a touchscreen…or using a mouse and keyboard, as I am doing. Music and voice acting was mostly kept intact, while the graphics were given a makeover with “chibified” character designs. The game is divided into ten chapters; the first chapter is available for free, hooray, and the remaining nine can be purchased individually or as a whole with discounted pricing.

The combat in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition is more friendly and forgiving though maybe a little uninteresting. When the party enters a fight–no random battles here–the player takes control of Noctis only while his companions do their own thing. Noctis will auto-attack whatever enemy is nearest to him or whatever one you personally select, with opportunities to parry and dodge presented as timed button prompts. As the party gains EXP, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio gain the same sort of special combat abilities they do in the core version, and there’s a skill tree to unlock other perks, such as using magic or enhancing how much damage your weapon does. Noctis himself has a very special ability called warp, jumping from one enemy to another by clicking on that enemy and holding down the mouse button, getting the drop on the unaware. You can also do this outside of combat, to reach certain areas.

Honestly, I enjoyed my free time in Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition‘s first chapter, but I’m not hooked enough to drop any bucks on it and see the remainder of the young prince’s plight. The combat feels inconsequential currently, though perhaps it gets more involved later on once magic and summoning show up. Still, it’ll always be a watered down version, and for some, that is ideal, and others not. I still find the idea of a boys’ roadtrip to be entertaining, even if it eventually does the Final Fantasy thing and end up being about saving the world from plunging into eternal darkness.

The world is ripe for digging in SteamWorld Dig 2

While playing I, Hope and growing extremely more disinterested and disappointed in the whole thing, I began to tinker away at SteamWorld Dig 2. This was a seemingly sleeper hit for many last year, and I, like many, wish I had played it sooner. It was like experiencing polar opposite games, where one game was just learning how to program jumping code for the main character and then the other game was able to flawlessly nail the feeling of feet lifting off the ground in order to reach a higher platform. I know I shouldn’t compare the two, as they are vastly different in countless ways, but I can’t help it, considering I would use SteamWorld Dig 2 as a feel-good chaser after dealing with some frustrating areas on repeat in I, Hope.

Let’s start at the start. SteamWorld Dig 2‘s story takes place between the events of SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist, of which the latter I have in my Steam library, but have not checked out yet. Following Rusty’s disappearance at the end of SteamWorld Dig, Dorothy, a robot who he had befriended, travels to the mining town of El Machino in order to search for him. Along the way, she comes across Fen, a remnant of the Vectron that Rusty had previously fought, who joins Dorothy as a navigator. While searching the mines for Rusty and hearing rumors of him turning into a monstrous machine, Dorothy comes across a group of humans led by Doris, who claims that mysterious machines are triggering earthquakes. From there, Dorothy is off to investigate.

The gameplay is quite similar to the original SteamWorld Dig, but much more refined. The loop is very much the same–dig deep underground, collect gems and materials, unearth the terrors of the underworld, and return to the top to cash in your collected goods for upgrades to help you better navigate this “platform mining adventure forged in Metroidvania flames.” Those are the developer’s own words, but man do they nail it right there. You’ll also unlock fast travel points along the way, so you can hop to and fro with ease, and some areas will require backtracking once you acquire a certain ability or perk, such as the jetpack or grappling hook.

I ended up taking a long break from SteamWorld Dig 2 because of the time I spent in the hospital and a growing general disinterest in playing many games on my laptop, but coming back to it months later is a breeze. One of my favorite elements is related to cogs. All of Dorothy’s tools are upgradeable with cash earned from excavating gems, and additional features are upgraded with cogs, which are found for the most part in secret areas or puzzle rooms scattered around the map. So, for example, for your pickaxe, you can use modification cogs to unlock Hunter’s Edge, which gives +5 extra XP per enemy killed with pickaxe, or Bounty Hunter, which nets you a cash prize for taking out enemies with the pickaxe. What is super awesome about this is you are not locked in to any of these mods and can switch them out freely at will, similar to Functions from Transistor.

Graphically, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a pure delight, especially on my laptop since I sit so close to the screen. It reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon, all bright and bouncy and safe to absorb. The robot designs are fun and imaginative, and there’s more to talk to here than the first game. The game’s soundtrack is strong, especially the song that plays in El Machino, which is important, because you’ll be returning there a whole bunch for selling goods and upgrading your gear. Sound effects are solid, especially the noise of you collecting gems and materials, which you’ll be doing a lot of; Dorothy’s pickaxe attack against an enemy is also quite pleasant.

I’m making no promises that I’ll see SteamWorld Dig 2 to its conclusion in 2018, but that’s okay. This is a gaming experience worth savoring and dipping back into now and then to get just a little further down the hole. I fully expect Image & Form to come out with a SteamWorld Dig 3 or another spin-off like SteamWorld Heist, as this world and its characters are too good to not do more with them. I’ll be ready, whenever they are ready.

Harvest Seasons is a dangerously addictive clicker

I don’t play as many clicker/idle games as I did a few years ago, but I still check in on a few now and then, such as Clicker Heroes, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms, and Harvest Seasons, today’s topic du jour. I also have some Office Space-themed thing on my phone that I looked at once or twice, but still haven’t uninstalled for some reason or another. It’s there for emergency purposes, like many of the games on my cellular device. Either way, if built right, an idle/clicker game can be quite relaxing and satisfying or dangerously addicting. So far, that’s how I feel about Harvest Seasons.

What exactly is Harvest Seasons? Well, one, it’s free on Steam. Second, it’s a fusion of many familiar things, such as a farming game, a city building game, and an idle/clicker game. It’s all about harvesting resources and leveling up your individual tiles to, well, create more resources, which will open up more options to increase your farmland’s yield. It’s a cycle of clicking and waiting, but a surprisingly addicting one because there never seems to be a dull moment, as something is always asking for an upgrade and your workers need to continually be kept busy cutting down trees, gathering crops, mining ore, or carving animal skins. Otherwise, you just aren’t growing.

It’s got a good look, heavy on the cartoony pixels, but the graphics are not the star here. They are functional enough. You can also stay very far zoomed out, which I do, as it lets me see more at once than being all up and close. I did have to turn off all the music and sound effects though as they are a little too loud for my sensitive ears, and because I don’t play in full-screen mode I can rock a YouTube video or Spotify playlist instead. Also, some of the font is a little tiny to see, even with my face only inches away from the computer screen. These are minor complaints though because, so far, and I’m still only in the first season of many seasons, I’m enjoying the clicking and waiting and clicking again.

Evidently, Harvest Seasons was lovingly hand-crafted by a husband and wife team, under the name of Bearded Bunnies. That’s super cool. This seems to be the duo’s first game, and I think it has a lot of promise. It’s not about loot crates or forcing you to purchase a ton of boosters with real-life money; instead, it’s pretty chill in letting you go at it however you want. For me, that’s checking in on it at least once a day, clearing out a few requests, focusing on unlocking at least one building or taking on a dungeon level, and then leaving it off for the remainder of the day. You aren’t punished for being away, and I find coming back to it with a ton of things to do to be ultra exciting.

Also, and this is a silly thing, but Harvest Seasons comes packed with over 400 Achievements to unlock. Granted, the majority of them are for reaching generic-like levels of things, such as harvesting X amount of crops or earning X amount of gold, all at different tiers, but it does hit that special spot in your brain to see so many unlocking so quickly. I’ve got about 50 so far, with plenty more to pop.

At some point, I’m going to have to “buy the farm” and do the thing I hate doing in these idle games but understand it is a necessity and start over…with some bonus perks, of course. I believe this is how you move from one season to another in Harvest Seasons. Eventually, you hit a wall where leveling up requires too much time or effort on your part, and your best bet is to start anew, with some enhancements to help get you back to where you stalled quickly. I get why it must be done, but it never feels great, wiping the slate clean. This is why, in real life, I am no farmer.

Do the Moonwhale’s bidding in Legend of the Skyfish

You can play a good chunk of Legend of the Skyfish for free before the walls go up and you have to drop a wee bit of cash-money to experience more. This happened to me specifically at Mamachi Swamp – Level 04, which felt like an odd place to stop players, but whatever. I feel like I grokked what this game was going for, enjoyed what I played and saw, and am totally okay moving on to something else. That’s not to say I don’t suggest you ignore this level-based puzzle adventure, just that you might get enough from its demo section. The full price on the PC is $7.99 or you can get a mobile version for half that.

Legend of the Skyfish stars a young hooded woman named Little Red Hook, as she journeys with the Moonwhale, the “warden of the seas,” to defeat the monstrous Skyfish. Not a lot of plot to go on, but it is serviceable. She’s armed with a rather unique item, a fishing pole–kind of like how Young in Anodyne wielded a broom instead of a sword. She uses her fishing pole both as a weapon and a grappling hook, and you can upgrade it as you progress through the levels. Of which, there are evidently 45 levels to see, plus giant boss fights. I already told you how far I got in the free-to-start version so I only saw one boss fight.

The levels in this The Legend of Zelda-lite romp are pretty similar from one to the next, slowly upping enemy counts and puzzles as you go further along. Little Red Hook explores screen after screen, flicking switches, and using her fishing rod to return sea horses and puffer-fish back to their ocean home. At the end of every level, she hacks a Skyfish totem to pieces, which I guess affects its plan of total domination. The fishing rod isn’t the only thing our leading lady can use. Little Red Hook’s hookshot tool can be used to snare solid objects, hurling her from island to island, grabbing stone blocks to weigh down ground switches, and yanking enemies across the screen to impale them on spikes, something that Mortal Kombat‘s Scorpion would highly approve of.

I played my little bit of Legend of the Skyfish on the PC, using mouse and keyboard for controls. It worked fine, especially because the game is quite linear, as well as friendly and pretty easy, though I generally prefer a controller for this type of adventuring. You can generally take everything slowly, and that includes engaging with enemies or moving from one island to another. It’s a gorgeous game to look at, from the way Little Red Hook moves through large patches of grass to the ripples in the water to the designs of enemies and the way they react to our leading lady’s presence. It’s quite stunning at times. Less can be said of the action, which is repetitive, with basic combat moves, but I found it relaxing and satisfying at times, and the rousing soundtrack helps keep you hooked, pun totally intended.

Perhaps Legend of the Skyfish will be included in some future Humble Bundle, where I can grab the full thing for a few dollars and see more of this beautiful world, maybe even give this supposedly dastardly Skyfish its just desserts. Time will tell, for sure.

Jellybeans and commands galore in A Boy and His Blob

A Boy and His Blob has been a long time coming in my “need to play” part of my brain. Probably ever since I saw Giant Bomb‘s Quick Look of the game almost ten years ago and listening to the duders there melt into emotional puddles as the boy would hug his newly found Blob friend. That said, I can’t quite remember when I procured my digital copy on Steam, but I finally installed it a few weeks ago and played through a good chunk of the first world, which is set mainly in a forest. Naturally, like the good blob that I am, I have thoughts.

Before we begin, some background. A Boy and His Blob is a puzzle platformer developed by WayForward Technologies and published by Majesco Entertainment. It came out in 2009 for the Wii and, first to my knowledge, is a re-imagining of the 1989 release A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia, which was originally developed by Imagineering for the NES. Eventually, in 2016 and 2017, it made its way on to other consoles and platforms. Evidently, WayForward’s director Sean Velasco was a big fan of the original NES title and wanted to re-create and update the experience for the current generation.

Story-wise, there’s not a whole lot to A Boy and His Blob. The planet Blobolonia is threatened by an evil emperor, and the titular “blob” flees to Earth to find help. It crash-lands on our nifty planet and finds only a young boy out exploring the wilderness. Together, they team up in order to dethrone the evil emperor. Along the way, minions of the Emperor attempt to stop them.

A Boy and His Blob‘s gameplay consists of platforming and solving puzzles, which nine times out of ten relate to platforming or destroying an enemy in your way of a needed platform. The boy can only do so much and must use his Blob companion to accomplish harder tasks. He can feed the Blob various flavored jellybeans that can turn it into a useful item, such as a ladder or trampoline, and I’m not sure how this is happening, but perhaps it was part of the original NES game’s mechanics. You begin the game with only a handful of these jellybean transformations, but as you progress you’ll acquire new ones too. Some levels restrict you to only certain types, which is helpful knowing that you have everything at your disposal to finish the level.

The game is broken up into different areas, each with ten levels to complete. I still haven’t finished the forest one, the first area, but it sounds like there’s also a boss fight at the end these that will put your jellybean abilities to work. In each world, you begin in your rather large hideout where you’ll have a world map to select levels, with your goal simply being to reach the exit portal near the end. There are also three treasure chests hidden in each level for you to locate and pick up using the Blob, which will unlock unique items in your hideout that can be used to play special challenge levels. You can always replay a level if you missed a collectible.

I’m in love with the art and look of A Boy and His Blob, less infatuated with the way the game plays. The cel-shaded graphics bring the environments to life using vivid colors and thick lines. The actual platforming is not as precise as what you’d find in Super Meat Boy or Super Mario Bros. 2–yeah, that’s right–but it is serviceable, especially because the pacing is slow, and you can really take your time to move forward. I hope to, at the very least, finish the first world off and see a boss fight, but I honestly don’t know how much more I’ll play past that. I’m glad I finally gave A Boy and His Blob some time, even if the majority of said time was spent having them hug one another.

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.