Tag Archives: Ellie

2015 Game Review Haiku, #14 – The Last of Us

2015 games completed gd the last of us

Searching for hope, cure
To survive, they turn savage
Plants can be deadly

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.

Dealing with a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus

ps3 gd the last of us impressions

Let me just say this: I am terrified of the Cordyceps fungus. This is a fungus that infects insects and arthropods. It attacks its host, replacing tissue and sprouting ominous stems that grow outside of its body. Eventually, these stems release spores into the air, infecting other hosts, and the cycle repeats ad nauseam. It’s rather special, like the work of a mad scientist whose only goal is to eradicate everything. So far, the fungus has no negative effect on humans and is even used in some medicine and recipes, though I have no desire to nom nom on creepy shrooms.

The Last of Us imagines a world where this is not the case. Where one unlucky dude got infected–and then millions did. I ended up dog-sitting for some friends during that recent, so-called storm of the century, and I took The Last of Us, Destiny, and Red Dead Redemption off my friend’s PS3 gaming shelf, intending to give all a whirl in between petting dogs and letting dogs go outside to do their canine business. Alas, I only ended up playing the first of the three, and it really took me by surprise. Yeah, I know, I’m pretty late to this train, but, based off all the talk in 2013 during “game of the year” time, I’m well aware that many are thrilled with how The Last of Us turned out. That it is a good, possibly great game. That’s not what surprised me. Let me explain.

I thought The Last of Us was going to be scarier than it is. I mean, its ideas and the inevitable actions of man in a post-apocalyptic world are horrifying, but that actual sneaking around enemies, both human and mutated, is more mechanical–and often frustrating–than anything frightening. Sure, I’m still not a fan of the sound Clickers make, but I can get past it. Literally. It just takes patience and willpower. For the longest time, I stayed away from The Last of Us, liking it to things like Dead Space and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, horror adventures built mostly around jump scares, tension, and a sense of hopeless dread. The Last of Us does feature the latter two elements heavily, but there are no cheap scares here. At least as far as I’ve gotten, which is up to when Joel and Ellie arrive at Eastern Colorado University.

I’m playing The Last of Us on its normal difficulty, but have found several sections extremely frustrating. Namely, navigating a room full of shiv-only Clickers, running from a noise-making generator, and that suburban sniper sequence. I may or may not bump it down to easy, which is not the worst thing in the world, seeing as I’m really just going through the combat scenarios to see the next cutscene or interaction between characters. This could’ve totally been a highly polished point-and-click adventure game sans guns and action-driven conflict, and I’d be enjoying my time all the same. Or maybe not. Maybe these combat sections are imperative to the plot, to see how violent Joel gets, how violent he has to be to stay alive. All I know is that playing The Last of Us is not what I look forward to most.

That said, possibly one of my favorite trends in videogames over the last decade is being able to see enemies–and track them–through walls. This was one of the early upgrades I got in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I know tagging enemies in Far Cry 3 and 4 is important to keeping tabs on everyone, and that very same tagging system helped keep me alive in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Here, in The Last of Us, Joel can enter “listening” mode any time he wants; this puts him in a crouch, turns the world black and white, and pops up visible silhouettes of enemies in the area. I find myself walking around in this mode so often that I forget how colorful Naughty Dog’s world is, how lush with greenery and rust and blood it actually is. I hide by listening.

I suspect I’ll be back for some post-The Last of Us writing, given how powerful the narrative is turning out and unfolding. Plus, I think, unlike with Tomb Raider and Dragon Age: Inquisition, I will give the online multiplayer a shot. A sneaky, stealthy bow shot, that is. Er, hopefully.

Games Completed in 2011, #11 – Monster Tale

Metroidvania is a special genre of gaming. It’s both linear and not, it’s devoted to progression and secrets, and it’s been around since the venerable NES days. I mean, it’s very namesake comes from two of its most obvious influences: Metroid and Castlevania. Over the years, Metroidvania has seen some peaks and valleys and straight-up dry spells, never finding a wide audience, but there’s been a rebirth of sorts on handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS. Mostly more Castlevania titles, but there’s also been the occasional surprise debut, and that’s where we find Monster Tale from DreamRift, the makers of Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure.

In Monster Tale, you play as Ellie, a young girl who stumbles upon a magical armband, unhatched egg, and hidden world inhabited by monsters. She quickly discovers that she’s not the only human to venture into this world as it is ruled by snotty, personality-heavy kids, the worst being Priscilla. They have enslaved many of the monsters and turned them into their evil pets. The egg Ellie found earlier hatches, and the monster quickly bonds with our blue-haired protagonist, fighting off enemies, eating snacks, and evolving into more powerful forms. She names it Chomp, and he/she/it will be vital to her survival as she searches for a way back home.

Monster Tale is a mix of platforming, combat, and pet raising. You’ll travel through five themed worlds—a wicked treehouse and demon express train, for example—until you can’t travel forward any more; most likely, Ellie will need to learn a new ability like charge shot or obtain a key to open a locked gate. Unfortunately though, DreamRift is a wee bit masochistic and decided to make back-tracking a high priority here. Very high priority. Now, with Metroidvania games, back-tracking is the point; you get a new ability, and now you can get past X from that earlier level. However, the back-tracking in Monster Tale feels unnecessary, and often the item/power needed is on the far opposite side of the map. There’s no fast-travel system so Ellie and Chomp have to trudge all the way back; I was constantly checking the map so as to not get lost. It feels like something implemented to transform a four-hour game into an eight-hour game.

Good thing the combat is fun, especially thanks to Chomp. He/she/it is an adorable monster that helps attack enemies on both screens of the Nintendo DS. Chomp can’t spend too much time up top as it drains its health, but the bottom screen acts as a sanctuary, healing it and housing many special items for it to interact with. There’s some great animation work when it comes to Chomp chompin’ down on some cold pizza. As Chomp defeats enemies and eats entire bowls of rice, it gains XP and levels up, opening up new forms. I had him evolve into the Juggernaut by the end of the game and kept him there, but there’s plenty of other forms for people to tinker with if they’re curious. I only wish that Chomp was a little more proactive when on the top screen; it seemed like it wouldn’t attack an enemy unless Ellie personally chauffeured it over.

Story-wise, Monster Tale doesn’t ask too much of your attention. There’s small bits of dialogue between Ellie and another kid before a boss fight, but other than that—it’s purely background fluff. I likened it previously to a Saturday morning cartoon plotline, and I’ll still stand by that. I do think that DreamRift missed out on a great opportunity though; all along, Ellie is trying to get Chomp back to its mother, but this plot point fizzles out. It’s safe to assume the two are reunited, but it would’ve been nice to see some monsterly reunion on-screen.

The production values in Monster Tale can’t be ignored. The 2D sprites are colorfully crisp, and the animation work is top-notch. The quality kicks it into even higher gear during the boss fights, my favorite being against the deranged bunny rabbit. Background details such as monsters hiding behind paintings really help with the immersion. To be honest, I did not notice much of the music; I eventually turned all sound off as I got tired of hearing Ellie make a noise every time I hit the jump button. Every. Single. Time. Thank goodness the game’s gorgeous to look at for extended periods of time.

Monster Tale came out shortly before the Nintendo 3DS launched, a period being labeled as “the end of the Nintendo DS era,” but not by me. It might be late to the party, but it’s a pristine example of why gamers should stick around a little longer. Sure, the back-tracking gets tiresome, but the combat and pet raising is irrefutably addicting. It’s definitely one of the more unique Metroidvania titles in some time, and if you’re a fan at all of fun, friendly platformers, this is one helluva tale.

A copy of Monster Tale was provided to me by Majesco Entertainment for review. My completion total was 78.6% after just under eight hours. I’m pretty sure I found every room, but did not spend a ton of time evolving Chomp into different forms. I basically stuck with the Juggernaut form and grinded him to level 30 before the final boss fight. The hardest part of the game involved a moving platform and floor lined with deadly spikes.

Chomping and wall-jumping my way to fun in Monster Tale

My current stats for Monster Tale say that I’ve now played the game for three hours and five minutes, clearing 28.4% of everything. I think this is an excellent stopping point to hand out some free impressions about Ellie’s journey into the unknown. To start—it’s super fun. The story is light and bouncy, and kind of reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon plotline: a bunch of kids leave home to become rulers of a foreign realm where they also enslave monsters to do their evil work. Enter Ellie, a young, spritely girl who stumbles upon a magical band (the thing you wear on your arm, not the thing you pay too much to see perform badly live) and an egg which hatches into a powerful monster. Jealous of her connection to Chomp, these unmanaged kids seek to steal back what they believe is rightfully theirs.

Much like how Shadow Complex was done in honor of Super Metroid, Monster Tale feels to be honoring the same game, as well as the Castlevania titles for the Nintendo DS. The overall aesthetic is friendly, with bright colors and cuddly enemy lifeforms, and I simply love that the save rooms are in libraries, and that to save you press up on the D-pad. It feels so good to save. Ellie can use either a melee attack or shoot balls of energy from her band; I’ve found that melee is most often the way to go, and the better your combo for killing, the greater your monetary reward is. Or sometimes you’ll get a slice of cold pizza. Win-win, really.

The platforming…it’s solid, but a little slow to start with. Thank goodness for the wall-jump ability, which makes backtracking and traveling in general smoother. You travel left and right, up and down, and there’s definitely obvious sections that will be accessed later after you’ve acquired the right ability. The usual platforming pitfalls prevail, too, with ledges that vanish upon touch, ones that bounce her high into the air, and others that move back and forth.

Chomp’s a nice addition to the party. He mostly attacks enemies on the top DS screen, and regains health on the bottom one, as well as devours food, kicks soccer balls, and learns new skills. The eating animations for him are made of pure smiles. So far, he’s learned several forms to evolve into, and the one I’m currently upgrading is called Wrecker, which means he enjoys exploding, meat, and exercise. That might sound silly until I tell you that his previous form loved ice cream. And here’s where it gets really RPG-like; each Chomp form levels up on its own, gaining stats from whatever you have him eat or how he attacks enemies; players can switch between forms on the fly, too, without the fear of losing all that hard-earned experience.

My only irks so far is that, on occasion, Ellie will roll forward when I actually want her to jump down to the ledge below. Also, the noise that plays when text scrolls along—does that have a name?—is annoying and not needed. Remember, silence is golden.

Boss battles are good, but I’m worried they are all gonna be too much alike, wherein Ellie fights one of the kids and a monster they control. Doesn’t take long to learn the patterns, and the toughest parts is just keeping Ellie’s health up as there’s no way to replenish it during a battle sequence. Regardless, I’m looking forward to giving Priscilla a smackdown. She reminds me of Darla Dimple from that 1997 classic Cats Don’t Dance.

But yeah, almost one-third of my way through Monster Tale and loving it immensely. It’s definitely proof that this pre-3DS system still has a lot to say. Stay tuned for more coverage.