Tag Archives: All Our Asias

Grinding Down’s Top 10 Games of 2018

2018 has certainly been an interesting year, and not just in terms of videogames. I definitely did not complete as many as I have in the past, eventually giving up entirely on my idea to do little drawings to go along with my haiku reviews. For 2019, I’m just sticking with the much-beloved haiku format from the past as I have other art projects to focus on. Still, I played a good amount of games, though many of the games I played don’t really have an ending to find, and that’s okay. Not everything in life needs to see closure.

Some games that almost made my list are as follows: Detective Pikachu, LEGO Incredibles, House Flip with Chip and Jo, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. All four I’ve started and are in various stages of completion, but that’s not why they aren’t included below. I’ll provide a few more details.

Detective Pikachu is super cute, but a little slow-going, especially when you can clearly see the answer to a puzzle miles ahead of hitting it but are forced to go through all the investigative steps beforehand; that said, I’m absolutely stoked to see the movie next year. LEGO Incredibles is, well, not to be punitive, but another LEGO game, with all the pros and cons that come with such a statement. House Flip with Chip and Jo is one of the better free-to-play games on a cell phone, but it loses points for breaking for two weeks after some big update. Lastly, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on the Nintendo 3DS is beyond adorable, but I haven’t done too many levels yet, but I love how much replay-ability the levels have, and my need to complete all challenges in each one before moving on is uber strong.

Onwards we march, to my top 10 games of 2018…

10. Harvest Seasons

Look, this game is an idle clicker, so there’s no real story here or magically nifty game mechanics, but I constantly find myself drawn to these experiences because…well, there’s always something to do in them. From upgrading to planning ahead to simply clicking away without caution. Everything you do generally leads to progress, even restarting from scratch. Previously, I fell hard for things like Time Clickers and AdVenture Capitalist, and Harvest Seasons is another good one to have open on my laptop while I’m drawing my comic about colon cancer next to it. I wrote about it over in this post if you want more details on how it works; also, it’s free, and you’ll find a few more freebies in this list because not every free to play game is completely terrible.

9. All Our Asias

In 2018, I played two games from Analgesic Productions, after really enjoying Even the Ocean a couple years ago–specifically All Our Asias and Anodyne. One I was mesmerized by, and the other was fun and challenging if somewhat unclear. In All Our Asias, you are tasked to explore someone’s mind and discover their secrets in a surreal, PlayStation 1-like world. The story covers heady topics like father-son relationships, Asian-America, and race. I can’t say I related to everything going on here, but it was nonetheless fascinating to explore and see unfold. A lot of games come out now that try to callback to the PS1 or SNES/NES days, but none have been as successful at capturing the tone and feel of a time long gone as All Our Asias. It’s spooky and haunting in a way that a game drenched in fog, like the original Silent Hill, can only be. It’s not a horror game, but it leaves a mark in your memory. Once again, this is a freebie on Steam, so I highly recommend you give it a go.

8. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle

Puzzle games are probably the genre that most get under my skin, often making me feel small and stupid. I’d like to think I’m neither, but sometimes my brain just breaks. For example, I only got so far in The Witness because it became too much to grok and hold all those different rule sets inside my head as I moved from one area to the next. However, I can’t stay away from them. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle, the third free-to-play game on my top 10 list so far, didn’t frustrate me too much, most likely because it contains an in-game walkthrough for any puzzle you get stuck on. You play as Jason Voorhees as he goes on his teenager-killing rampage, but you can only move him in so many directions based on the layout of the map. It’s both cartoonish and ultra-gorey, and you are always leveling up, getting new costumes and weapons to use against these dumb-as-bricks kids. For a game all about murder, it’s a lot of fun.

7. Legendary Gary

I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Legendary Gary straight from the developer. I’d been interested in the game from the very start of the year, loving the artwork and unique take on turn-based combat. It didn’t hit every note for me, in the end, but I greatly enjoyed Gary’s fantasy and real-life equivalent adventures, and the soundtrack is simply hypnotic. The fighting is the main meat of the game, but I felt there wasn’t enough of it to really get a grip on how it worked. That said, there was also no grinding needed to reach the end, which I will always appreciate. It’s a rather short, special RPG, with some heavy decisions to make, and I’d love to see a sequel explore more of the fighting and in-game fantasy world.

6. Subnautica

Look, I’ve put a decent amount of hours into Subnautica and still really haven’t left the first main area of the game. It feels a lot like my first go at Dragon Age: Inquisition, wherein it was just hard to leave the starting area of the game because there was so much to see and do. Plus, I’m a teeny tiny bit scared of what else is out there; oceans are deeply unexplored, and if Planet Earth has taught me anything it is that the strangest critters and fish live in the darkest depths. I like that there’s not a ton of hand-holding here, and you have to scavenge what you can to build better gear and upgrades, all of which do push you to explore further and further away from the safety of your crashed pod. I’m considering getting the game on console soon as I’d rather play it there then on my laptop PC which can only just barely run this watery beast.

5. State of decay 2

At some point, I’ll probably just start my camp over in State of Decay 2. I’ve learned more as I played about what should take priority and how to keep everyone happy, but found myself constantly struggling to juggle all the needs and wants and necessities. When I last played the campaign mode, my group of survivors was just barely teetering on the edge of sanity, and I felt like I had explored all the local areas to completion, but didn’t feel confident traveling too far away. That said, the online horde-based mode called Daybreak is a ton of fun, and it also will eventually help with the main campaign by bringing over guns and tech earned by playing multiplayer. It’s not a happy game, but it does a great job of making you understand what it ultimately might take to live through a zombie apocalypse with a bunch of strangers on your side. Maybe.

4. Starlink: Battle of Atlas

I bought the digital version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and that was a good decision. I just don’t have room for more tiny toys, even if they finally do something other than take up space, nor do I think it would be fun to constantly swap out weapons on the fly when I can just pause the game and do it much quicker with a few button clicks. Either way, I still haven’t finished the main campaign as I’m enjoying completing a planet’s long checklist of things to do before moving on to the next world. The flying around and shooting at robots feels great, and there’s plenty to upgrade, from your ship to weapons to mods to your pilot’s super ability. Progress is always being made, and the story and characters are a lot of fun. I’m excited to see where everything is going, and there are a bunch more planets yet to explore to my heart’s content.

3. Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

I only recently got into the original Spyro the Dragon games after purchasing digital copies on my PlayStation 3 a couple years ago. It took me a bit to get through the first and second game, and by the time I was working on the third game…a full remake of all three titles was announced. So I stopped and waited patiently, and my patience was greatly rewarded. Sure, not all is perfect, like some difficulty in the boss fights, every single flying-only level, and the fact that we are missing subtitles in the year twenty-eighteen, but the game is still a joy to play. Collecting gems, eggs, orbs, and freeing dragons is still beyond satisfying, and seeing some hidden off to the side or up on a cliff and figuring out how to get there is pure joy. I’ve already re-beat the first two games, even getting 120% in the original Spyro the Dragon for the very first time, and I’m working hard to see the trilogy’s conclusion.

2. Mark of the Ninja: Remastered

I loved the original Mark of the Ninja, and I loved the remastered version I got for free for purchasing the original game years ago. It’s pretty much the same game, with some cleaned up art/cutscenes and a piece of DLC I never got to play, so for me, it was great going back into this world of stealth and stabbing and relearning all the tools and tricks to make it out alive. Melanie and I especially enjoyed going for all the seals that required a lot of points, figuring out how to milk the most out of a kill by hiding the bodies or throwing them into a group of unsuspecting guards. It became a game within a game, and I popped all the Achievements except for the one that wants you to play it all over again via New Game+. Maybe one day down the road I’ll take that challenge on, but for now…I’m good. I’m a good, little ninja-man.

1. Fortnite Battle Royale

Shortly before being admitted to the hospital in July and discovering I had cancer, I bought the Battle Pass for Fortnite Battle Royale. I figured, at that point, I had played enough of its truly free mode to warrant such a decision. Also, you can totally earn enough V-bucks playing the game to purchase the next season’s Battle Pass, so long as you don’t blow it all on costumes, dances, or strange emotes.

The weekly challenges, along with the daily missions, really made playing the game more fun, as I was terrible–and probably still am–at building and shooting. However, I can totally open seven ammo crates in a single match or dance in specific locations like it is nobody’s business, and even my fiance Melanie got into the action. By action, I mean doing a lot of the non-combat missions, but it became something we contiguously worked on together, and was a joy to come home from chemotherapy with new tasks to polish off, all while earning new outfits and such.

One thing that I have grown to appreciate in Fortnite Battle Royale over PUBG is how often it takes risks, tries out new modes or weapons, and generally isn’t afraid to mix things up. It keeps the game feeling fresh. I don’t love every mode, but it is comforting to know that nothing lasts forever. Still, please, Epic, bring back the 50 versus 50 mode. I need it like woah.

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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.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #16 – All Our Asias

Polygonal realm
Holds memories and answers
Surreal sounds abound

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

All Our Asias surreally explores Yuito’s dying father’s mind

Even the Ocean was one of my favorite games in 2016. Analgesic Productions crafted a game of platforming and exploring, with just the right amount of challenge to not make it feel like a cakewalk, while also weaving a tale of friendship and loss and impending doom that, to this day, still sits inside me, gnawing at my stomach. Aliph’s quest to fix a bunch of power plants to stop the foretold invasion of flood-bringing monsters is not a straightforward affair, nor a happy one, but it’s something she does because…someone has to take charge. More power to her, if you ask moi.

Similarly, Yuito’s mission in All Our Asias is also on a bit of a time-crunch. This is a completely free to play, surreal as surreal gets 3D adventure, about Asian-America, identity, race, and nationality. It comes from Sean Han Tani, one part of Analgesic Productions and the co-creator of Anodyne, which, alas, I’ve still not gotten to play. In this one, you play as Yuito, a Japanese-American hedge fund analyst in his early thirties. His estranged father is dying, and it’s too late for Yuito to communicate with him; however, thanks to advances in technology, despite his father being on life support, he can enter his father’s Memory World, which is a supernatural landscape full of the man’s experiences and secrets. The technology is nascent, and the process is risky, but Yuito has questions and wants answers.

Gameplay is twofold–walking and talking. To explore this Memory World, Yuito glides around inside a tiny tank-like vehicle, something that instantly made me think of that bright red tank from the PlayStation 1 Ghost in the Shell game (I briefly experienced it via one of those demo discs). You’ll find people to chat with, who will often guide you to the next area or offer a tidbit of info about this strange, hypnagogic realm. He’s trying to learn more about his father, but not everyone is forthcoming with information; in fact, there’s an entire sidequest about restaurants and instituting new tax policies that I didn’t entirely understand or see how it was connected to the big picture, though it does tackle issues about race and shared sympathy and other sensitive topics generally not explored by this medium. Movement is slow, most likely deliberate, which gives you time to observe the environment and eat up the soundtrack. You can do a short-hover jump to help with ledges and staircases, but this is by no means a puzzle platformer, and beating the game gives you a cool upgrade to help speed exploring up…though I didn’t feel compelled to keep playing.

I genuinely love the look of All Our Asias. Sure, my first gaming console was the Super NES, but when I eventually did that terrible thing of trading in a ton of my games to get credit to buy a PlayStation 1 from Toys”R”Us, rest in forthcoming peace, I was taking a big step, one that would forever impact my history with gaming. Here was a console I was getting myself, not as a birthday or Christmas gift, but through the sacrifice of others, and boy was I going to get the most out of this system. I played the heck out of Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Bushido Blade, Silent Hill, The Granstream Saga, Chrono Cross, Resident Evil, and so on. I become one with low resolutions and polygons, with fog designed to purposely mask load times or pop-in, with in-game character models with next to no details beside shapes and some color. Exploring All Our Asias forces your imagination to see things bigger and better, to look past its flat textures and chunky models; it’s a blend of walking simulator-esque gameplay and emotionally complex storytelling, drenched in 32-bit visuals, and I love it.

Sound-wise, All Our Asias is a dream. Again, I’m never not lost on the difficulty of describing music via words, but please, take a listen. It’s soft, it’s mesmerizing, it’s soothing. You’ll at once feel like you are floating above a city skyline on a gorgeous September morning while also zipping through the innards of a dying man’s mind where thoughts and memories race against each other, fighting for attention, scrambling for security. Somehow, the soundtrack never overtakes the story, but provides ambiance and a haunting sense of dread, and I can’t get over how pretty of a tune “Somewhere’s Meadow” and “What Will He Retain?” are for the ears. Getting lost a couple of times and unsure of where to proceed next wasn’t frustrating, as it just meant I got to listen to some more songs.

Right. All Our Asias is not perfect and certainly not for everyone. It’s focus on narrative and slowly moving towards the next story beat will probably feel like a chore for many; however, I found myself instantly sucked into this world, curious to know more, much like Yuito himself. I won’t stand here and say I understood everything it was going for and definitely could not relate to some of its themes, but your mileage may vary, and you won’t know until you give it a click.