Tag Archives: dogs

Valiant Hearts: The Great War can bloom even on a battlefield

valiant hearts gd early impressions

I don’t know much about war, but I suspect I’m more knowledgeable when it comes to details related to World War II than World War I. Mind you, this is not me saying I’m knowledgeable at all. Just more familiar with how things went down from 1939 to 1945. Blame it heavier on popular entertainment media than my limited history school lessons, as I probably absorbed more from things like Band of Brothers and The Saboteur than anything else. As for World War I…well, I know it was one of the deadliest conflicts, with some absolutely terrifying weapons of war used. Like severe mustard gas.

So, naturally, there’s not a plethora of games based on this happy-go-lucky time period, though I did recently puzzle my way through Covert Front‘s alternative take on World War I. Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War is also a puzzle adventure game, released in summer 2014 and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, and walks the path of being both fun to play and educational. Evidently, the game was inspired by actual letters written during World War I and focuses on four different characters: the Frenchman Emile, his German son-in-law Karl, American soldier Freddie, and Belgian nurse Anna. It’s a heart-twisting story of love and survival, sacrifice and friendship. There’s also a dog you can continuously pet.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is divided up into four chapters, and each chapter is split into several sections. Most of these sections you to clear an objective in order to progress through the story, like solving environmental puzzles or acquiring specific items related to the situation. Other sections mix the action up, such as surviving heavy gunfire, stealthing past enemies undetected, and, my personal favorite, rhythmic car chase scenarios set to classic songs where you have to avoid obstacles in the road. Also, each of the four characters is able to interact with the world based on who they are, such as Emile shoveling through soft ground, Freddie cutting barbed wires with his shears, and Anna treating patients’ injuries through a mini QTE. When available, the characters can order the dog to carry objects and push levers.

Despite the tone and horrific historical details, I’m really enjoying my time so far in Valiant Hearts: The Great War. It’s got a fantastic, cartoonish art style, and the puzzles have not gotten too complicated to the point where I’d want to throw the controller away. Even if they do, there’s an in-game, timer-based hint system, if you need an extra clue on what to do with the dog or how to sneak by that watchful sniper in the tower. Toss in some relaxing piano tunes for when you are reading up on days past, as well as a soothing narrator, and this is a strangely tranquil gaming experience amidst all the explosions and mortar shells. I’m somewhere in the middle of chapter two currently, so I don’t expect this to last that much longer, but that’s okay. It’s bite-size, but so far quite filling.

Lastly, I keep thinking from its title that Valiant Hearts is somehow related to Vandal Hearts, a PlayStation 1 tactics RPG that I regret trading in back when I was young and dumb (but haven’t written about yet). Alas, the two are no more related than…well, I tried for the longest time to think of some witty war comparison here, but came up empty. Germany and Canada? Meh. If you’ve got a killer line, drop it in the comments.

Stains and the Giant does not reveal how the dog got its name

stains and the giant final impressions gd

The whole time I was playing Stains and the Giant, which, I’ll grant you, was no more than maybe fifteen minutes total, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Stains the dog got its name. When push comes to shove, there’s only so many possible scenarios for a puppy to deserve such a calling, especially when it is young and innocent and unable to do cool, heroic-like feats that could potentially get him dubbed something cool like Jumps or Digs. Nope. The dog’s name is Stains, and it is left up to your imagination as to why.

Instead, what one should be focusing on in Stains and the Giant from Esklavos is fixing the magical portal, which will help teleport Stains…um, to somewhere else. I don’t know how the dog arrived here or where Stains is off to next, but it is not too vital to getting things done. To fix this portal, the dog will need to travel from one island to another (there’s four in total) using his airship, gathering items, solving puzzles for a fisherman, a bird, and a giant, and memorizing a bunch of clue codes–or do as I did, and take a picture on your cell phone of things you might need to reference later when the time is right. Saves on the backtracking and mind-scrunching.

The point and click mechanics are of the usual sort, and you can combine a few items in your inventory to create new ones. The puzzles are more geared towards patterns and memorization. For example, on the first island, you might spot a sign of strange symbols. On the next island, you’ll find those symbols again and must click on them in the same order as previously observed. Stuff like that. In terms of audio, the few short songs are jauntily enough, almost something you’d hear at a carnival, but they don’t last very long, leaving you with just ambient noises, like birds chirping and the sound of the ocean. That’s fine, but when you are stuck on a single screen for some time, a longer song is more desirable. Strangely, there are no sound effects for items interacting with another, not even a sound to let you know that using a pick-axe on a cloud is beyond ineffective.

I really dig the cartoonish, colorful look in Stains and the Giant. Both items you can interact with and the background art live on equal ground, which makes it sometimes difficult to know what you can or can’t click on, but it also helps to keep everything meshing together realistically, even when we’re discussing fantasy elements like magic skulls and a talking bird. There’s little to no animation, which resulted in me getting stuck in one spot where I hadn’t realized I had solved a puzzle and a crystal had appeared on the screen since there was no action indicating something like that was happening. Also, Stains is really cute looking and reminds me fondly of Frasier‘s Eddie.

Also, as far as I can tell, Stains has a few more adventures in his future, with Stains and the Yeti and Stains and the Guru already up and ready to go. I’ll have to give these a try at some point, though I’ll continue to hold out hope for Stains and the Person that Named Him That.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #21 – Stains and the Giant

2016 gd games completed stains and the giant

Island to island
To find scepter, fix portal
Stains is sad dog name

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Jolly Rover’s got a sea’s worth of canine scallywags and spiritual magic

jolly rover gd final impressions

Through the power of Gmail and its determination to never truly delete anything from your inbox, I have discovered exactly when I got hold of my copy of Brawsome’s Jolly Rover, a comedic pirate-themed point-and-click adventuring starring literal dogs of the sea. It became my treasured booty back in March 2012 when it ran as part of “The St. Patrick’s Day Bundle,” which was the ninth bundle from Indie Royale. That bundle also provided me with copies of Hard Reset, Vertex Dispenser, DLC Quest, and Lair of the Evildoer, of which I’ve dabbled in a few of them over the years.

The plot in Jolly Rover is both engaging and easy to grok, a stab at the swashbuckling classics with a side of silliness à la Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! or Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. Gaius James Rover is a nicer-than-nice dachshund who, after escaping from indentured servitude on an enemy pirate ship, finds himself caught up in a number of quests involving lost treasure, family secrets, cannibals, cannonballs, and coconut-dropping magic–among other things. In order to reclaim his stolen cargo, save the girl dog, and fulfill his lifelong dream of juggling balls in his very own circus show, Rover must travel around a series of islands, speak to the inhabitants, click on items, and solve puzzles, either logically or via the magical ways of pirate voodoo, which runs the gamut from scaring away beasts to heating up anything made of iron. Pretty standard stuff.

The most interesting aspect of Rover’s abilities involves using a book of magical spells, as well as a voodoo “cheat sheet” that basically lets you do any spell you’ve already successfully performed without going through every step again. A few spells required me to take a picture of my laptop’s screen with my cell phone as I just couldn’t remember the specific steps clearly, though the similar gesture-based pictures are designed that way to confuse you. Ultimately, it’s fairly clear where and when you need to use a voodoo spell, but I do wish the game allowed for more creative uses or rewarded the player for experimenting now and then. For example, I thought melting the iron bars off a jail window to free some prisoners would’ve done the trick just fine–nope, didn’t work.

There’s really not too much else that stands out here from other traditional 2D point-and-click adventure games other than the previously discussed voodoo, but I do want to draw attention to both the rank and quest labeling system. These sit at the top of the screen and update constantly as you gain score–upped from doing stuff, whether it is examining items or advancing the story–and hit big events. The ranks are quite amusing, with Rover starting out as a “Blistering Barnacle” and working his way up past nicknames like “Nefarious Trickster” and “Dog-o-war.” For the quests, the objective is always amusingly changing, even during dialogue, so suddenly instead of “find X, Y, and Z” you’ll now have “think fast” when being questioned hard by the governor. It’s a really small detail that adds a lot of color and humor to Rover and his interactions with all the other dogs.

Alas, by the end of Jolly Rover, I did not find all the collectibles, which include pieces of eight, crackers, and scraps of flags. Phooey on that, as I won’t be replaying the game, even though I did unlock developer commentary for completing it once. Hitting set tiers for each of the listed collectibles unlocked music tracks and concept art. Not the biggest loss, but I do aim to be a completionist as I play, and so some treasure will just have to stay buried if you get my pirate talk.

I mostly came to Jolly Rover for its dog and pirate puns, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. That said, I also found the game to be charming, cute, colorful, and crafty. The voice acting is also quite good, which always help in drawing me into a point-and-click adventure game; I don’t mind reading all this text, but it helps paint a stronger picture of each character to hear how they describe an oily rag or coldly served salamagundi. I will admit that I had to look up the puzzle involving a wheel and birthday dates, but otherwise it’s a simple, easy, and enjoyable few hours. As they say, a dog pirate’s life for me.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #27 – Jolly Rover

2015 gd games completed jolly rover

James Rover, pirate
DeSilver robs his clown dreams
Voodoo your way home

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #3 – Last Breath

Oh man. I gotta hurry up and finish playing the top 10 from Ludum Dare 22 before the next Ludum Dare challenge takes place. Which is around the end of April 2012, and I think I can do it, as I only have three more games to try out: Last Breath, Abandoned, and Frostbite. All of them look simply fantastic in visual terms and are definitely platforms higher than those that came before them, which might just mean a pinch more of reflecting on my part. I can and will do this, and if Ludum Dare 23 goes well, I’d like to do it again as it’s a great push on myself to try out some smaller games I’d otherwise not even notice.

Like in Stray Whisker, Last Breath features an animal as your protagonist. This time it’s a dog, and it’s unclear if it’s a dead dog or a dog in limbo or a dog that was hit by a truck so hard that it flew into a hole in the ground which then opened up into a maze-like cavern–oh, and it also survived the impact. I guess all signs point more towards a limbo-based Canis lupus familiaris given this bit of text from creator deepnight:

The story of a dog trapped between life & death.
I can’t say much more, it would spoil the story 🙂

Anyways, after exploring this cavern a bit, you’ll discover multiple red balls and a shadow version of yourself, with eyes full of hatred. As soon as you begin to collect the balls, your shadow duplicate comes after you, literally shadowing your every move and eviscerating you upon touch. Your goal, from what I can tell as I was unable to even complete this part, is to collect all ten balls without the shadow dog killing you. This involves some planning as you can find yourself at a dead end for some balls, with no way out and the shadow beast closing in. The closest I got was a total of eight balls.

Last Breath, much like that silhouette XBLA darling Limbo, nails a lot of things: atmosphere, suspense, and gameplay. The pixel art and animation work is immediately charming, and I’ve had a deep love for that floating particle effect ever since I first played Fallout 3. The controls are simple, as the dog can move, jump, and cling–in a rather funny way–to ledges, and you’ll quickly go from exploring casually to running and jumping for your very being. The ambient music doesn’t change to reflect this, which is a shame, but it’s tense nonetheless. There’s obviously a best path to walk, but I didn’t figure it out after ten minutes or so.

Do try it, and good luck getting all those balls.

Starting Shank’s story of sadistic and senseless slashing

The story of Shank: gang kills former gang member’s wife, said man kills everyone in the gang. At least that’s how I assume this will all go down. I’ve only just begun, but I mean, yeah. It’s all there. I’ve seen Kill Bill plenty of times to know what a tale of vengeance looks like. And I guess that’s fine. Really, this could be the story of a man named Shank that suffers from dementia and whittles pretty birdhouses during his flex time at Brookside Senior Citizens–so long as it looks this pretty.

As an artist, I love a game that revels in its artness. Like Prince of Persia and Bastion and Limbo and Odin Sphere and so on. If it looks hand-drawn, I’m in. If it’s colorful or has hints of cross-hatching or bold, thick outlines, I’m also in. Highly realistic graphics are uninteresting to me, and only help to make me feel more uncomfortable when shooting people that look like real, honest-to-goodness people in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3. No thanks. I’d prefer to blast apart something with tentacles.

But man, Shank. It’s a visual treat and like playing an episode of somethingSamurai Jack, perhaps–on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim. You control Shank in 2D, moving from left to right and jumping up and from platforms; the background goes deeper than that, with details like graffiti on buildings and telephone poles and a dreary and muted skyline that look absolutely gorgeous, especially to see it all in motion. Character models pop in that they are much more colorful and animated than everything else, slick with polish and personality. And story beats are covered in dramatic cutscenes and smaller scenes that actually take place directly during gameplay, which is a fun little trick that keeps the game’s pace frantic and fun.

Playing Shank on normal allows for unlimited continues and nicely placed checkpoints, which means I can just try again after Shank gets overwhelmed by too many goons. Which happens a lot. See, I have to learn to not get locked into a crazy-cool 15x combo when baddies are also standing behind me. So it’s a learning process, seeing what weapons work best and when to grab someone and how to toss grenades and so on. There’s a surprising amount of depth here, and I can’t even begin to imagine anyone playing without a gamepad. Like, really. It has to be nigh impossible.

Hmm. Okay, it’s Steam Achievements in your face time!

Just Getting Started: Take out 20 enemies

Making a Name for Yourself: Take out 100 enemies

The Wrong Guy: Defeat El Raton

My hands cramped up during the moving train level due to too many dogs and not enough health drinks, but I’ll be hopping back into it soon. It’s fun and fluid and immensely stylized and even though I kinda know where it’s all going it sure is a blast juggling enemies with knives, guns, and a chainsaw finisher. The only complaint I have with Shank is that the developers gave names to all the dog enemies, and it is ten times more hard to chainsaw a mutt’s face off when you know he’s called Thrasher to someone. Poor, poor, mutilated Thrasher. You probably didn’t mean to be so evil.

Games Completed in 2011, #22 – Find Mii

This Nintendo 3DS minigame actually required a good amount of time and attention, and so it’s making the list as a completed title for 2011. DLC and minigames, huh? At this rate, I’m going to start considering things like “waking up” and “eating a yummy lunch” to be completed games, and before you know it we’ll be in the triple digits. Looking forward to that, as well as hitting twenty-five completed titles as I can then buy L.A. Noire guilt-free, and the timing on that is most likely going to perfectly align with an upcoming vacation. Mmm…

Anyways, Find Mii. It’s one of two minigames found within the StreetPass Mii Plaza, and it’s basically a tiny, simple RPG with a small level of strategy to it. Your Mii–the version that looks like you and that you send out to other 3DS systems to hang out, that is–is captured by a mysterious monster and locked in a cage. To free him or her, you’ll need to either hire cat/dog heroes (depending on your preferences) or tag other 3DS punks and use their Miis to fight off ghosts, open treasure chests, and progress through a multi-room dungeon. A basic RPG, wherein the color of the Miis and heroes you use determines their magic ability; some spells work better on specific ghosts, and there’s one dungeon room that simply won’t let you do anything unless you have somebody in a white shirt.

Strategy involves knowing how to attack ghosts in a certain order or with a specific spell up front. Let me say that Poison (purple shirts) and Invigorate (orange shirts) are great and should be used first to get the most out of them. Sometimes a ghost will have a colored shield, and the only way to break through is to attack with a same colored hero; sounds easy enough, but the heroes you purchase are random, and who can ever predict what color shirt another 3DS owner’s Mii will be wearing. It’s a lot of luck first, strategy second.

For the longest time, I was spending Play Coins to hire a few kitty cats to fight for me, which meant very slow progress. It wasn’t until MoCCA 2011 that I started to tag people like crazy and was able to get through a huge chunk of the dungeon; the final end boss, however, required constant hero-purchasing, but eventually I was successful in saving, uh, myself, and then there was some end credits and the option to play again to find even more hats for my Mii to wear. I wish I had saved my final end-game stats, but alas, nope. I’d guesstimate that I used somewhere around 150+ heroes to beat Find Mii for the first time.

Here’s a checklist of the hats I’ve unlocked so far:

  • Mario Hat (Earned from clearing Room 01)
  • Luigi Hat (Earned from clearing Room 01 on your second trip through the game.)
  • Toad Hat (Earned from clearing Room 10 on your second trip through the game.)
  • Bowser Hat (Earned from clearing Room 08 on your second trip through the game.)
  • Red Pikmin Hat (Earned from clearing Room 06)
  • Blue Pikmin Hat (Earned from clearing Room 04 on your second trip through the game.)
  • Yellow Pikmin Hat (Earned from clearing Room 11 on your second trip through the game.)
  • Link Hat (Earned from clearing Room 08)
  • Samus Hat (Earned from clearing Room 12)
  • Metroid Hat (Earned from clearing Room 12 on your second trip through the game.)
  • Kirby Hat (Earned from clearing Room 07)
  • Cat Hat (Earned from clearing Room 04)
  • Dog Hat (Earned from clearing Room 09)
  • Bunny Hat (Earned from clearing Room 06 on your second trip through the game.)
  • Crown (Earned from clearing Room 13)
  • Ultimate Hat (Earned from clearing Room 13 on your second trip through the game.)

Of all of ’em, I enjoy the crown, mostly because I got used to seeing my Mii wearing it while stuck inside a cramped cage. See:

For being free, Find Mii a fine little distraction, something to do every now and then when you notice you have a tag or abundance of Play Coins, but once all the hats are collected, that’ll be it. Maybe via system updates, Nintendo can include new dungeons (and hats!), as well as new puzzles to collect pieces for. Doesn’t seem like a hard thing to do. Plus, I have like 150+ Play Coins just sitting there, collecting (3D)e-dust, waiting to be spent. Let’s keep this going, okay?