Tag Archives: action platformer

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.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn cutely pulls the wool over your eyes

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I had a retail copy of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which is a light-hearted platformer developed by Good-Feel and HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo for the Wii way back in 2010. Then, during my divorce, I gave up the Wii and most of its games, yet ended up still having the case of the game, along with the manual…minus the disc. Hmm. I suspect it was inside the Wii when it was unplugged and all that because I’m usually pretty good when it comes to not losing my beloved videogames. Thankfully, I can stop looking for it because I have a newer, shinier version of it to play.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn for the Nintendo 3DS might very well be the system’s last big release. I don’t see much else coming out down the road, but you never know…I feel like a lot of people are constantly surprised to see the handheld still being supported, but it makes sense to me when you factor in its large user base. Sure, most have probably moved on to the Nintendo Switch by now, as I will eventually do one day, whenever they get around to announcing an Animal Crossing-themed bundle. Anyways, it’s an enhanced remake of Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii, which means it has the same content as the original release, but also includes new power-ups, modes, and sub-games starring Meta Knight and King Dedede as playable characters. Alas, this version now lacks co-op, so Prince Fluff is not playable, but that’s okay…it’s perfectly fine for solo-ing.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn‘s not a plot-heavy adventure despite the word epic in its title. Kirby is wandering around Dream Land one day when an evil wizard banishes him to Patch Land, a world made up entirely of fabric. Kirby is transformed as well, including his powers. He can no longer copy the abilities of enemies by eating them whole; instead, Kirby can shift form into various vehicles and other devices. Using this and his yarn whip, he journeys through Patch Land as he attempts to put it all back together.

Many originally complained that the Wii game was a bit too easy and forgiving, almost built for children. Well, for those that want more challenge for their cutesy pink platforming star, the introduction of a new Devilish Mode will keep seasoned gamers more on their toes. This new mode ups the challenge a teeny bit–this will never be a splatformer–by having a devil-like character following Kirby the entire time, trying to get in his way or hit him with tossed items. I tried it a few times and found that, ultimately, it is not for me; I like taking my time and exploring every nook and cranny, getting every gem I can, but this mode forces you to keep moving and never stand still. No thanks, but it is there if you want it.

Along with Devilish Mode, there are two extra additions to the original Kirby’s Epic Yarn experience exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS version, plus amiibo and StreetPass support, both of which I no longer care about or am able to do. These are the minigames starring King Dedede and Meta Knight; one is called Dedede Gogogo, and the other is Slash & Bead, and both are relatively similar to each other. For Dedede Gogogo, it is basically an endless runner with Dedede moving across the screen, hitting or diving through whatever comes into his path all while trying to collect as many beads as possible. Slash & Bead has a teensy bit more agency, allowing the player to freely explore the screen, hacking and slashing at everything as the legendary Meta Knight. Each minigame contains four stages to complete, and you can craft…uh, things, such as a yarn donut, with some of the gems and materials you collect in these minigames. It’s not a boatload of extra stuff, but it is something else to do.

Here’s the thing. For Kirby’s Epic Yarn, I never got that far, maybe just to Hot Land. The reasoning behind this is because I was playing it with my then-partner, and we just didn’t end up returning to it after our first gleeful initial session with it. For Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, I’m already at Hot Land and excited to keep playing. I also am looking forward to decorating my apartment with all things green, as well as helping to flesh out the other apartments with required furniture and wallpaper. It’s not Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but I’ll take it.

The Legendary Starfy: a stuffy, unsettled luminous spheroid of plasma

There was a short time there when I’d go into a GameStop, swing by the Nintendo 3DS section, ignore all the 3DS titles in their big and bright white boxes, and start sifting through the shelves with countless envelopes that only contained DS games–no box, no manual, just a loose cartridge. These were often extremely cheap, usually a couple bucks at most, and my true goal was to find a copy of Suikoden Tierkreis, but alas that hasn’t happened yet. Still, I’d grab anything that looked remotely interesting, and so I have a strange conglomeration of DS games in a Ziploc bag. Every now and then, I pluck one out and give it a try, for better or for worse, which brings us to The Legendary Starfy.

The Legendary Starfy series are platformers, focusing more on swimming than running and jumping around. That makes sense when you consider you are playing as a starfish. Still, you do go on land, and the controls are par for the course when it comes to running, jumping, and landing on platforms. However, when in the water, players can only move Starfy around using the control pad alone; if you want to make Starfy swim faster–and who doesn’t?–you must hold the B button down. The games are usually composed of multiple stages or worlds, with each stage split up into four sub-stages. Boss characters are found at the end of each world’s final sub-stage, and most of the other sub-stages are centered around retrieving a lost or stolen item for another character.

The Legendary Starfy is essentially an aquatic spin on Kirby, mixing up a lot of the same mechanisms and gameplay styles as Nintendo’s pink puff-ball, as well as throwing in other classic gaming influences for good measure. The game is bright and colorful, bouncy as heck, friendly, reminding me of things like Plok for the SNES and Ristar for the Sega Genesis, and those are good things. The game itself definitely feels targeted at a younger audience, and that’s okay; I’m not against a platformer that provides a lighter challenge–sorry, Celeste fans–interested more in telling a zany, fast-moving story. There’s quite a lot of chatting to read too, as Starfy has many friends, and they like talking.

Let’s talk about that story for a moment. Starfy ends up accompanying a shape-shifting space rabbit on his quest to recover pieces of his crystal spaceship, along with his memory in the process. This leads to a hodgepodge of silly or simply unexpected elements, such as transforming into a fire-breathing dragon or squawking chicken, as well as the ability to swim upwards through rainbows and giant raindrops. Along the way, he’ll meet lots of friends and foes, and even do side quests for some of them, like find red pearls for Herman or racing against Fork. Your in-game case lets you review all this, and there’s also a journal to read, as well as The Moe Show, a talk show hosted by a clam. Yeah, you heard me. Plenty of other things to poke at too, it’s brimming with extra content.

Evidently, The Legendary Starfy is pretty big in Japan, with plenty of merchandise to go around for the little yellow dude in Japanese retail stores, such as plush dolls, pencils, birthday balloons, and casino cards. It only came over to North America in the form of the fifth game. Anyways, Densetsu no Stafy is a manga series produced by Shogakukan and Nintendo, and it is based on the game series, specifically the first and second titles. Oh, and this little starfish shines bright elsewhere, showing up in games like Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, Super Princess Peach, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and an unlockable costume in Super Mario Maker.

I do like dressing Starfy up in different costumes–right now he’s rocking a rubber-ducky ring and sunglasses–but I do wish that these outfits were reflected in the main game’s sprite, not just the 3D model section. Oh well. Maybe one day we’ll see this star-shaped echinoderm on the Nintendo Switch, not just in Japan, but here in North America too. I think he’s up for another adventure.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Cloudberry Kingdom

Here’s a rare happening when it comes to all these PlayStation Plus Purge posts–I’ve actually already played a small bit of Cloudberry Kingdom already, our topic du jour, but I naturally remember nothing more about it other than that. A quick search on Grinding Down shows that I definitely didn’t have anything to say about the game whenever it was I last touched it, and I don’t know how much more I’ll have to say about it now because…well, it just kind of is what it is. Still, let’s find out together.

First, some pertinent stats upon returning to Cloudberry Kingdom after what I can only guess is several years; my PlayStation 3 says I installed it on June 2, 2015…yup, so there ya go. I won’t go into them all, but here a few standouts:

  • Levels beat: 54
  • Jumps: 761
  • Score: 284575
  • Coins: grabbed 602 out of 637 (94%)
  • Total deaths: 40
  • Trophies unlocked: 1

Cloudberry Kingdom is an action platformer created by Pwnee Studios and published by that lovable French fatcat Ubisoft. The game uses a set of algorithms developed by Jordan Fisher to create procedurally generated levels that can be adaptive to the player’s skill level, in-game character abilities, and alteration of game physics. Whatever that means. Basically, the levels change based on how you play, which is neat, but I probably wouldn’t have known that unless I read it first before playing. To me, the levels in story mode feel mostly handcrafted, so if it is changing based on my lackluster jumping skills, that’s kind of cool. If it’s not, oh well.

There is…a story to follow. Or try to care about. Something called The Orb resurfaces and, with it, comes Kobbler with his mania and Princess with her endless boredom. It’s only a matter of time before Bob, Cloudberry Kingdom‘s hero, shows up to put order back to madness. Three powers struggle for victory, and the fate of Cloudberry Kingdom hangs in the balance. I really don’t know what to make of all that. Honestly, it’s like reading a short summary of something in a different language. Wait, wait a freaking second. I just discovered this major factoid–Cloudberry Kingdom touts celebrity voice actor Kevin Sorbo, the star of hit TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

I’ll be honest with y’all; I don’t dig Cloudberry Kingdom‘s look. It hurts to say because, obviously, I love cartoony styles, but there’s just something ultra plain vanilla about the graphics here. They look like stickers atop a muted piece of background art. The jumping is a bit floaty, but it’s functional enough, though the story levels don’t present much challenge; I’m sure if I got further into the campaign mode I’d come across some real zingers, but that won’t ever happen, at least not in this lifetime. In addition to the main story, there are four additional modes: Escalation, which throws increasingly tough levels at you; Time Crisis, where there is a timer that is draining gems to time to the clock; Hero Rush, another timed mode where you play as different character types; lastly, Hybrid Rush, an absurd amalgamation in which you’re afflicted by multiple abilities simultaneously.

Cloudberry Kingdom has a neat idea behind it, but it lacks polish and imagination. You can’t rely simply on Kevin Sorbo to sell your game…though I am interested to here some of his voicework now. I’d love to see the notion of randomly generated platforming levels explored further, as this is clearly just a nugget of an idea here. It’s just not enough currently.

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, #4 – Where is 2019?

Hunting the new year
Strange world, solid platforming
I found seaweed, yay

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 – Another World

Another World is an adventuring classic. At least, it seems so. It’s also known as Out of This World in North America and Outer World in Japan, which has only confused me for years because I always thought those were different, unique games…or parts in a series. Nope, they are one in the same. For those that don’t know, Another World released in 1991, and it’s a highly cinematic action-adventure platforming game designed by Éric Chahi and published by Delphine Software. The narrative involves Lester, a young scientist who, as a result of an experiment gone wrong, finds himself on a dangerous alien world where he is forced to fight for his survival.

Here’s some things I just learned about Another World, after giving it a few goes on the PlayStation 3 via the Another World – 20th Anniversary Edition version, which us PlayStation Plus users got for free this past September. It was developed by Chahi alone over a period of about two years, with help only on the soundtrack from Jean-François Freitas. Chahi developed his own game engine, completing all the game’s art and animations in vector form to reduce memory use, with some use of rotoscoping to help plan out character movements. Both narrative-wise and gameplay-wise, he wanted the game to be told with little to no language or user-interface elements. The game was originally developed for the Amiga and Atari ST, but has since been widely ported to other contemporary systems, including home and portable consoles and mobile devices…which is how I am playing it some now twenty-plus years later after always being curious about the legendary beast.

Still, I couldn’t get too far in this one, especially once it became necessary to fire guns at enemies and dodge incoming bullets while also creating shields to block said projectiles. I did okay kicking and jumping over the weird alien worms that fall from the ceiling, as well as running away from the dark-black hulk that chases you at the start of Another World. After that…everything just needed to be too precise for me to figure out. Plus, once you died, which always only took one wrong move or hit, you had to do the whole “rock the cage” bit again, and then try to hit your marks perfectly or be evaporated before you even knew what hit you.

Well…I just watched a full playthrough on YouTube (with no commentary), with a run-time of just over thirty minutes, which includes multiple deaths and restarts. Yeah, I don’t think I would ever have figured some of this stuff out. There are walls you can blast open to let you into new areas, but I don’t see how you’d be aware of them at all as they don’t stand out and the game itself never tells you what you can or cannot do. In one way, that’s freeing and awesome; in another, completely frustrating. There’s a whole section set in a cavern that is blowing my tiny little mind. I get that adventure games are all about exploring and trying your options out until they run bone dry, but again, with no text or inventory system…it’s seemingly impossible to know what is possible in a strange world like this. Also, all your actions require repetition to perfect.

I’ll give credit where credit is certainly due. It looks like Chahi created one fantastic sidekick more than twenty years ago, an alien being who communicated only through gestures and a small lexicon of syllabic barks and encouragements. I think its name is Buddy, but don’t put my feet to the fire on that. I’d place it next to similar strong standouts like Agro, Vivi, and Yoshi. Another World absolutely wrings every ounce of its low-detail scenery, flipping between perspectives and just overall presenting a world unknown to anyone. It’s strangeness is what kept me watching, wanting to see where it all went…which, to be honest, I didn’t fully follow, but I greatly enjoyed the journey from a distance.

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.

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

gd-spyro-3-year-of-the-dragon-ps1-early-impressions

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.