Tag Archives: collectibles

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Toy Home

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

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

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

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

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

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Day is night, and night is day for Pokémon Moon

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I skipped out on Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, which, like my first experience with Pokémon HeartGold, are remakes of older generation games. That’s fine, really. I’m not against remakes, considering I loved Spyro the Dragon: Reignited Trilogy and have heard many good things about Capcom’s revisit to Resident Evil 2. However, after Pokémon Y, I wasn’t interested in going backwards, but rather forwards, with the mechanics and list of pocket monsters evolving greatly and equally alongside the somewhat limited handheld graphics. Enter Pokémon Moon. Yes, moon, not Pokémon Sun. I’m Irish, and I burn easily.

Alas, I picked up Pokémon Moon around the same time that I got Disney Magical World 2. As you know by now, I ended up putting way more hours into running around Castleton than I did the Alola region, and I have a hard time pulling carts in and out of my Nintendo 3DS, preferring to leave a solid one in until I’m mostly done with it. I mean, I did start Pokémon Moon the night I got it, picked Rowlet as my starter (sorry, Litten and Popplio), handled a few other tasks, and saw enough of the opening area to confirm that, yes, this is another pretty good Pokémon entry, and I’ll get to it eventually–and when I do it’ll be a fun time.

On that note, if you’ve played one Pokémon game, you’ll probably not be knocked over by the general story in this one. Pokémon Moon has you journeying across the beautiful islands of the Alola region, encountering newly discovered Pokémon, as well as Pokémon that have taken on a new Alolan style. Your job is to keep track of all the Pokémon you’ve seen and caught with your Rotom Pokédex, which is a living, breathing record-keeper. Around every corner, your battling skills will be tested by tough Trainers, and epic battles are in store for you against Team Skull, a nefarious group of ruffians attempting to steal Pokémon. You’ll also face off against the kahunas, the tough leaders of each island. If you’re strong enough, you may reach the Battle Tree, a place where the most accomplished Trainers go to battle each other.

Sounds about the usual affair, so then…what’s different this time around in Pokémon Moon? Well, some of the Pokémon you’ll train and battle with can learn powerful new Z-Moves—moves so strong they can be used only once in battle. There are Z-Moves for every different type, as well as exclusive Z-Moves for certain Pokémon, including Eevee and Pikachu. There’s also a new Pokémon Refresh feature that can keep your Pokémon in top shape after all that battling. Here, you’ll take care of your Pokémon by curing any status conditions like poisoning and paralysis, and the more affectionate your Pokémon become toward you, the better they’ll perform in battle. Lastly, Pokémon can also enjoy a new experience known as Poké Pelago, a place for them to visit when they’ve been placed in PC Boxes. This is a group of islands where your Pokémon can explore, play, and do other fun activities, growing stronger and obtaining items for you.

Actually, the biggest difference for Pokémon Moon and Pokémon Sun is the clock. Yup, time, time, time. In addition, the two games’ clocks are set 12 hours apart from each other, with Sun operating on the standard 3DS time, and Moon 12 hours ahead. This means, when I usually play the game at night, it is actually daylight in-game…and vice versa. This does affect some of the Pokémon you’ll encounter, and I find it rather neat nonetheless.

Perhaps my favorite new feature in Pokémon Moon is that after facing off against a Pokémon once, the game automatically charts whether a move will be effective or not. No longer do I need to look up what works against what online or keep tables labeled effective or super effective in my memory. This is fantastic both for newcomers and series loyalists. I don’t care if some see it as dumbing the game down; there’s still plenty of things to dig deep into, if that’s what people like about their Pokémon games, such as breeding or finding shiny versions.

I’m playing Pokémon Moon super slowly–I mean, it’s been a few years now–and that’s perfectly fine. Every now and then I get the itch to go in, wander around, catch some new pocket monsters, and level up my team. I also enjoy dressing up my avatar in new clothes. Maybe I’ll advance the story, and maybe I won’t, content to just noodle around with all the side content and extracurricular activities. I figure this will still hold me over until I get a Nintendo Switch and have to make the difficult decision between Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. Hmm. Really, it’s whatever one has Garbodor in it.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Legend of Kay Anniversary

Here’s an oldie, but also a sorta newbie–Legend of Kay Anniversary. Evidently, the original Legend of Kay came out on the PlayStation 2 back in early 2005 from German developer Neon Studios, but I’ve never heard of it until now. This newer version of the game comes with improved graphics and online leaderboards for players to compare scores, and it was released on just about everything under the sun, namely PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Wii U on July 28, 2015, as well as later ported to the Nintendo Switch last May. So, kind of hard to miss…except I have chosen to constantly skip past it on my protracted PlayStation Plus list since getting a digital copy back in March 2018 because, well, to be honest, I need to be in a specific mood for this type of character-action game.

Let’s start off with a whole bunch of lore that will either mystify you or cause your brain to melt out your ears. Because it’s a lot. For many generations, the mystical land of Yenching had been inhabited by many animals, mainly cats, hares, frogs, and pandas. Due to a religious code called the Way, these four races had prospered throughout the ages in their own separate towns. However, as the years passed, the younger generations began to defect from the Way. Ultimately, with no protective code to guide the races, Yenching was invaded by gorillas and rats (known as the Din), led by Gorilla Minister Shun and Tak, the Rat Alchemist. Minister Shun now rules the majority of Yenching with an iron fist and is said to reside in the volcanic mountain of Waa-Lo. Got it. Ultimately, after all that, Legend of Kay Anniversary is about a young cat-warrior named Kay who tries to save his once-peaceful island.

The first thing I had to do in Legend of Kay Anniversary was invert the camera controls, with this being a PlayStation 2 game. Times sure have changed when it comes to that. Also, the voice acting in this thing is…woof. Or should I say meow? Either way, it’s atrocious, full of stilted language and phoney 90s-esque attitude, and a part of me wonders if all games from this era had lackluster voice-work or if it is just this beast. I mean, I’m the guy that, in my mind, still thinks Ty the Tasmanian Tiger was a fun-as-heck romp, but worries that if I was ever to return to it I’d discover it’s just as iffy as Legend of Kay Anniversary. Sometimes nostalgia is good, sometimes it breaks your heart.

Gameplay is what you probably already expect and very similar to other character action games of this time period, such as Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, Jak II, and Vexx. Except those were all better games; actually, wait, I can’t speak for Vexx, having never played it, but you know what I mean. You’ll run around a somewhat small, enclosed environment, picking up things like gold coins and other collectibles, and attacking enemies with your sword, either by mashing the attack button for a three-hit combo or using more sophisticated moves, like a downward strike while jumping. There’s some light platforming puzzles to solve as well, and the only neat thing I’ll say Legend of Kay Anniversary has going for itself is the way you can combo-chain from one  enemy or destructible item to another, which can take you to new, seemingly unreachable places.

Unfortunately, there are major issues with the game’s camera, which have always been a thorn in these types of games’ side. However, the twitchy and unpredictable nature of Legend of Kay Anniversary’s camera makes it an incredibly frustrating experience, making even basic moves like jumping from one level platform to another a test of one’s patience. Attempting to string together a series of combos or avoid being overwhelmed by a group of enemies increases its difficulty tenfold. If you find yourself in an enclosed area where the camera is forced to adapt, you can expect to frequently lose sight of Kay entirely.

Even though I was just pining after Haven: Call of the King recently, Legend of Kay Anniversary is not doing it for me. Maybe if it controlled a little better, because the amount of story here is surprisingly, but then again, I can’t stand listening to Kay talk out loud, nor do I completely agree with the strange language choices, such as a reliance on the word naughty. If anything is naughty, it’s this needless remaster. Younger gamers might like it, but that’s probably an insult to younger gamers, considering they murder me all the time in Fortnite.

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.

I’m sorry, Clanker, but there’s just no saving you

I’m still hiking around in this overpopulated landscape, chipping away at Rare Replay. I got the massive collection of games digitally back in the heyday during E3 for watching some streams via Microsoft’s Mixer app, and it’s been interesting seeing a lot of the games within it because, for the most part, I was never involved in a lot of Rare’s work growing up. This is probably because I never had a Nintendo 64, where the company seemed to shine brightest, and I also never touched a ZX Spectrum, where a lot of the company’s work started, under the divine name of Ultimate Play the Game. So far, I’ve dug deep into Jetpac and Gunfright, noodled around with the ultra difficult Battletoads, and not really touched anything else much other than to pop Achievements for basically opening each game once. Go me.

Look, I’m never not in the mood for a good collectathon, and I’ve always heard good things about the Banjo-Kazooie series. My first and only experience with the franchise was with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on the Xbox 360 some years back, which, while it certainly had a number of items to collect, focused more on customizing vehicles and winning races and building the strangest contraptions this side of New Jersey. Not my forte; I’m no engineer. On a whim, I decided to see what Banjo-Kazooie is truly all about. Turns out–frustrating camera controls and the worst underwater swimming section I’ve ever dealt with, but more on that in a bit. Plus, Jiggies.

Ultimately, Banjo-Kazooie is a mascot-driven platformer developed by Rare and originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It follows the lighthearted story of a bear named Banjo and a bird called Kazooie as they try to stop the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda, who intends to switch her beauty with Banjo’s sister, Tooty. Yes, those are all their real names. The game features nine nonlinear levels where the player must use Banjo and Kazooie’s wide range of abilities to gather jigsaw pieces, along with other collectibles, to get closer to taking on Gruntilda. Along with the jumping and climbing, there’s challenges like solving puzzles, accessing out-of-reach areas, collecting items, and defeating enemies that wish the duo harm.

I was going to initially say it’s mostly mediocre platforming, but than I hit a wall in the game. In Clanker’s Cavern, you have to free him from his chain that is hooked at the bottom of a low pit. It’s a long swim down there and, logically enough, it’s a long swim back up there. Most gamers would agree that water levels suck. Swimming underwater in these levels sucks even more, with the bonus possibility of running out of oxygen to make things even nastier. Clanker’s Cavern is the second level of Banjo-Kazooie that focuses on water, with Treasure Trove Cove being the first, and it contains its own demon in the water. However, in Treasure Trove Cove, you never have to deal with the fear of running out of air. In Clanker’s Cavern, that’s your biggest fear as you swim down to free stupid ol’ Clanker.

Right. At the bottom of this deep underwater pit is a key hooked beneath Clanker’s chain. To release him, you have to swim through the keyhole three times. Seemingly simple, yes, but that’s where they get you. Like I said… it’s a long swim down and a long swim back up, and if you don’t nail swimming through the keyhole perfectly each time, your chance of seeing blue sky diminishes rather quickly. Now, there is a fish called Gloop in the area spitting out air bubbles to give you a bit of a reprieve, but once again, grabbing them takes precision, and that’s not one of Banjo-Kazooie‘s bright spots. The swimming is slow and somewhat floaty, if that makes any sense, and I refuse to try and save Clanker anymore.

Perhaps I’ll just move on to Banjo-Tooie and pray that nothing similar to this level exists in that game; still, I’m sure I’ll find something just as annoying to battle with, but until then, may Clanker continue to be chained up against his will.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, a big ol’ boring collectathon

I started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate when I came home from the hospital last August; I’m still playing it. It’s a long one, bloated with things to collect and many uninspired missions that I no longer even care about completing the way the developers clearly want me to, but I like finishing things that I start, and so I’ve stuck with it still despite it being really boring. Those are both my words and Melanie’s word; the poor thing has had to endure watching me run around like a maniac in search of every single collectible. I’m currently in sequence 8, with one more sequence to go, along with a few Achievements to unlock because, at this point, I’ve put in a good chunk of work to unlock them already…might as well see them pop.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is set in a fictional history of real-world events and follows the centuries-old struggle between the Assassins, who fight for peace with liberty, and the Templars, who desire peace through order. The story is set in Victorian-era London and follows twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they navigate the corridors of organized crime and take back the city from Templar control. Naturally, this being an Assassin’s Creed game, you’ll run into many a notable figures as you stab and loot your way to victory, such as novelist Charles Dickens, biologist Charles Darwin, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, political theorist Karl Marx, nurse Florence Nightingale, Duleep Singh (the last maharajah of the Sikh Empire), Sergeant Frederick Abberline of the Metropolitan Police Service (known for his investigation of Jack the Ripper), and Queen Victoria. Phew.

It’s an Assassin’s Creed game, which means it does all the same things previous ones have done, but on a grander scale, this being on the Xbox One and not the Xbox 360. It’s got main missions, side missions, a thousand collectibles, gear to upgrade, income to earn, gangs to upgrade, skills and perks to unlock, and so on, just like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag–maybe the last one I’ve truly enjoyed–Assassin’s Creed II, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I wasn’t thrilled with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and all I remember from it is that is focused heavily on bombs. Anyways, taking place in a bustling place like London, the buildings are bigger and more closely connected to each other; to help get around somewhat faster, both Jacob and Evie have access to a grappling hook device that shoots a zipline from one place to another. This still doesn’t make all the running around fun or that much quicker, as climbing can still be iffy, with the occasional leaping off of rooftops to your swift death below.

Here’s something funny I’ve been doing while running around from one place to another simply to collect a pressed flower, a poster, a beer bottle, or a chest full of crafting/upgrade ingredients. I’ve been telling Alexa–that robot lady everyone seemingly now has in their house–to play a playlist of polka music. Honestly, it makes all the to-ing and fro-ing much more enjoyable, because it’s not like any interesting dialogue is happening at this time, and getting from A to B can often take a couple of minutes, depending on where you are and whether or not there’s a fast travel viewpoint nearby. At some point, I have to give up the notion that I’m going to open every single chest in this game because…there are just too many.

Combat in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is still a button-mashy mess. You can string together a couple of combos, as well as counter an incoming attack from a different enemy, but only if you time it just right. Then, some enemies, require you to break their stance by stunning them before you can begin a new combo. This sounds par for the course, and it is, but things go sour real fast the minute you have four or more enemies attacking you at once, as well as snipers on rooftops that you have to dodge. I eventually began using hallucinogenic darts from a distance to get enemies to fight each other, with me sneaking in at the end to finish off the remaining survivors. It’s not the coolest way to go about it, but it works. Also, while the skill trees make it seem like Evie is the sneaky one and Jacob is the more aggressive combatant, both play exactly the same way and can unlock the same abilities for fighting…so there’s really no point in having two playable characters other than for story-related reasons.

Looking at my games to install list on the ol’ Xbox One, I still have Assassin’s Creed III to play. Also, this month, we’re getting a free copy of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue from Games With Gold. Ugh. I’ll never be done with this series. Plus, there’s the newest ones, Origins and Odyssey, which, according to podcasts I’ve listened, sound like they are too big for their britches. Can’t wait. Part of me enjoys the idea of a collectathon, but maybe only one that is both not this big or a bit more fun to play. Heck, I enjoyed collecting 10 eggs recently in Dear Cousin more than anything I’ve accomplished in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Please pray that I’m finished with this beast sooner than later.

I can’t be alone in thinking Never Alone is cute yet disappointing

It was supposed to snow this past weekend, and while it did, all we got was a snusting, a new word I’m pushing to get into the OED. It means a light dusting of snow, in case that wasn’t clear. Anyways, this put me in a mood to play something snowy, and after scanning my list of games still to install on my Xbox One I saw it, the perfect winter weather game–Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa).

Ultimately, Never Alone is a puzzle-platformer developed by Upper One Games and published by E-Line Media based on the traditional Iñupiaq tale, “Kunuuksaayuka,” which was first recorded by the storyteller Robert Nasruk Cleveland in his collection Stories of the Black River People. I realize that is a lot to take in at once, so please, give yourself a moment before moving on. In terms of gameplay, you swap between an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her Arctic fox companion to complete puzzles and navigate the wintry landscape. There are a total of eight chapters to get through, and the game was the result of a partnership between the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and E-Line Media. It is evidently one of a growing number of videogames produced by Indigenous people, and that’s really cool. Too bad I found the whole thing frustrating and disappointing, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep creating games that celebrate and explore different cultures. I do want more.

You can play Never Alone co-op, but I went through it by myself, which meant manually switching back and forth between Nuna and her fox companion. At first, during the early stages, this was fine, but later you have to take timing into consideration and it can be tricky to get both characters to work in unison. I wonder if the controls would have been better if they followed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or ibb & obb. Anyways, Nuna can push/pull boxes around, as well as use her bola to destroy chunks of ice while the fox can jump higher and let down ropes from ledges. There are action sequences where you are being chased that require quick jumping, but most of the game is about moving from platform to platform, often using spirits as ledges to help Nuna get where she needs to be. This does become tougher later on when your fox changes and requires the two to work much more closely to get things done.

Look, Never Alone‘s story and its structure is based on the inter-generational transference of wisdom, and that’s mega neat. It is told in the form of an oral tale, and players are rewarded for collecting “cultural insights,” which are ultimately video vignettes of Iñupiaq elders, storytellers, and community members sharing their stories. These are all well done and produced, and this isn’t the norm when it comes to puzzle platformers, but I’d love to see more of collectibles like this. I ended up missing one by the game’s end, but the majority of them are along the main path, so you’ll find ’em easily enough and should dedicate some time to check them out.

Alas, here’s what I ended up disliking immensely about Never Alone. At first, the platforming and puzzles were rudimentary and simple, but became more time-based as the levels went on, which, when coupled with the fact that you had to switch between characters in a flash, resulted in many annoying deaths. The game is also glitchy, and I’m specifically talking about a tree I ran into during the last level that refused to walk forward; I had to return to the main menu and hit “Continue” for it to truly awaken, but this was only after 20 minutes of attempting to figure out if I just wasn’t doing something right. Ugh. Also, jumping and grabbing on to ledges with Nuna felt seriously inconsistent, and that’s a big part of the gameplay, so boo-hoo to that. I honestly thought, based on the first few chapters, that Never Alone was going to be a breeze, but found myself shouting curses at the TV screen near its conclusion.

It’s a cute game, doing really great things for the Iñupiaq community and culture, but it isn’t the most fun thing to play in the world. Sorry about that. I’m just as bummed as y’all.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #8 – Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)

Stop source of blizzards
Learn indigenous culture
Inconsistent jumps

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.