Tag Archives: Extra Life

The Wolf Among Us is where wolves fear to prey

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I got through a decent chunk of The Wolf Among Us last year during my Extra Life event, sleepily playing it in the wee hours of the morning after I found myself walking off ledges too frequently in Dark Souls. Part of me suspects the reason I picked it is because, if I nodded off momentarily during a conversation scene, the scene can keep going, selecting “…” as Bigby’s appropriate response. I guarantee this happened a few times. I gare-run-tee it. I’m also fine with my Bigby being a bit shy or passive in his interactions with some people, even if later I made him ultra assertive and demanding when push came to shove. You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette, y’know.

The Wolf Among Us, which I constantly wrote incorrectly as A Wolf Among Us in its game review haikus, is a prequel to Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book universe, of which I’ve read not a single page. Bigby Wolf, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf, is the Sheriff of Fabletown, which is a hidden community of fairytale characters located in New York City in the 1980s. After receiving a phone call from Mr. Toad, Bigby saves a young prostitute from an intoxicated and extremely vulgar Woodsman. He escorts her away to safety. Alas, later that night, Bigby is shocked to find the woman’s severed head left on the doorstep of the Woodland Luxury Apartments. Deputy Mayor Ichabod Crane orders him and Snow White to investigate her death.

I’ve had problems with these adventure romps from Telltale Games since basically the first mainstream one I touched: season one of The Walking Dead. I enjoyed that one a great deal, even if I saw that it was more adventuring than pointing and clicking and had a couple complications, but this was a different beast, playable first on a console and designed for a controller and distinctive pace. I’ve stopped referring to these as point and click adventure titles. They are dialogue adventures. Season two of The Walking Dead was a whole lot less game, and this carried over to Game of Thrones. I’ve not tried Tales from the Borderlands, Minecraft: Story Mode, or Batman: The Telltale Series yet, though I do have their first episodes downloaded and ready to go, but I suspect I won’t find anything new to love there.

In The Wolf Among Us, players control Bigby Wolf, who is investigating a murder. You’ll “explore” various environments throughout Fabletown, such as apartment buildings, a bar, a butcher’s shop, etc. I used quotation marks because you are extremely limited in where you can walk, and there are only so many things to interact with. Many are just there for lore and to unlock entries in your Book of Fables guide. Occasionally, items of interest are stored in an inventory on the side, but you don’t access this like you would in a more traditional point-and-click title; instead, if you have the item, it can come into play at a later time automatically. Gameplay ultimately boils down to talking with a host of pretty memorable characters, with conversations presented in the form of dialogue trees and responses on a timer. Depending on your choices, these will have a positive or negative effect on how people view Bigby, as well as larger plot-points down the road. Many scenes are heavy on action, requiring players to respond rapidly through QTE prompts, such as fighting off bad dudes or chasing after a vehicle speeding away. I failed a couple of things here and there, but unlike Shenmue the story thankfully moves forward regardless.

Here’s where The Wolf Among Us shines, obviously: the writing. It’s an entertaining, complex story, with a cast of characters that are fun to recognize and see how they fit into this alternative realm. Bigby is a villain trying to live a better life and help who he can, struggling to shed his past skin. That comes through strongly in the story, and his interaction with Snow White, at least the ones I saw and decided on, spoke volumes without every directly saying what each person thought of the other. I also liked the interaction between the fairytale characters that could pass among humans versus the ones that couldn’t without using expensive treatments called glamours, such as Mr. Toad. The real villains are villainous, and I found the Crooked Man to be profoundly striking, using his smarmy, distrustful words and loyalty of his goons to get his way. Spoilers: I let him talk for a good while before deciding to alter his form for good. That said, I think the end conversation between Bigby and Nerissa was meant to be more profound, but it came off as plain ol’ confusing. If you want to read some theories, here’s a good starting place.

I had the luxury of playing The Wolf Among Us mostly back to back after getting the whole thing at once from Games with Gold in April 2016, but for those that experienced it episodically, spread out over nine months, I can see some episodes not really satisfying or feeling like enough. The action scenes are few and simply a bunch of button presses, and I found it hard to sometimes see what was going on because I was more concerned with which button to hit next. That’s the most gameplay you get, and the rest is Bigby lone wolfing it on the streets of Fabletown, talking to people and responding accordingly. There are parts of the game where you can only go one way or another due to time restraints, which theoretically leads to replay value, but I don’t like replaying these things from Telltale Games because, to me, my first go-through is my only go-through. The decisions I made, the words I spoke–like real life, there’s no do-over.

Wait, remember earlier when I said that the writing was the best part of The Wolf Among Us? I was wrong. I forgot that the intro title sequence is amazing, using shadows and purple neon and deep, pulse-laden electronica music to set mood like nothing before, save for maybe Stranger Things. Even if that feeling doesn’t last for the entire episode, it certainly kicks things off on a great, furry foot. Let’s end this post on a highlight, on that. If Telltale Games doubles down on ambiance and atmosphere for season two, if there is to be one, I might return. I might.

Grinding Down‘s readers will remember that.

Costume Quest 2, sweet like candy to my soul

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I enjoyed that first Costume Quest game. It was cute, charming, bite-sized, rewarding, and perfect for warping you back to your childhood to remember those consequence-free times of running through your neighborhood, ringing doorbells, and asking strangers for candy. Surprise, surprise, being that the games are nearly identical to each other in terms of mechanics, pacing, and exploration from the eyes of children with larger-than-life imaginations, I also enjoyed Costume Quest 2. Probably more than the first adventure.

Here’s the four-one-one. Costume Quest 2 from Double Fine and Midnight City takes place once again on Halloween night. The fraternal twin siblings Wren and Reynold from the original game are back, as well as a bunch of their friends,  to save All Hallows’ Evening from the evil Dr. Orel White. This ultra-nefarious dentist has teamed up with a powerful time wizard, as one often does, releasing the Grubbins into the human world in hopes of ridding the candy-filled holiday entirely from history. Wren and Reynold’s friends open a mystical time portal from the future to explain that, where they are from, Halloween has been permanently outlawed, with Dr. Orel White ruling the world. Wren and Reynold go back to the future with their friends to stop this disillusioned dental surgeon for good.

If you’ve played the first Costume Quest, you’ll know how this game works because it is nearly identical. You move around an enclosed area full of things to punch for candy and on-screen enemies, like a suburban neighborhood or dental compound, talking to NPCs and solving simple navigation-blocking puzzles. Often, to get where you want to go, you need to use the right costume. For instance, the pterodactyl can use its wings to blow away big piles of leaves or garbage, and the wizard can illuminate dark areas the kids are too scared to explore without a light. There are main quests to follow, as well as small side ones that will earn you extra XP, upgrade your candy bag, and provide rarer Creepy Treat cards.

The main aspect gating progress in Costume Quest 2 is combat. It’s turn-based, focusing heavily on timed button presses, just like Paper Mario: Sticker Star. You select attack and then must time the button press with the indicator on-screen to hit maximum damage. You can also do this for blocking, to take less damage, as well as learning the ability to counter attacks later on. Each of the costumes the kids wear have different basic and special attacks, and I ended up relying on the Superhero, Clown, Wizard, and Jefferson costumes the most. I’ll talk about the Candy Corn costume in just a bit. All of the costumes have different strengths and weaknesses against specific enemy types, but I really never found myself worrying about that. You can run away from any fight, and even if you die, you respawn by the fountain of health to try again. This is not the Dark Souls of lite RPGs.

In fact, the hardest thing about Costume Quest 2 turned out to not even be terribly difficult, just a little more time-consuming. I’m talking about the “Hardcorn” Achievement, which requires you to keep a kid in the Candy Corn costume for the entire game. Basically, the Candy Corn costume does not attack enemies. You can still take less damage to it with a proper button timing when blocking, but otherwise it doesn’t do much other than make silly quips at the start of its turn, which, alas, I can confirm do repeat. Later, when Corvus teaches the kids how to perform counters, Candy Corn can at least occasionally deal some damage back, since everyone like to target it the most. This did make the boss battles go on a little longer than normal, but otherwise, I was able to do it, and I even shared this journey with all of you via Extra Life this past weekend. You can watch the videos on my YouTube channel (not all are up yet). Also, thanks to Microsoft’s latest dashboard update, I can now tell you that, on the Xbox One at least, this is a pretty rare accomplishment. Like 2% rare…

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Go me. Anyways, Costume Quest 2 is real cute. Super duper cute. The kind of cute fun that makes you feel safe again in a world that is undoubtedly growing more dangerous every day. For sure, I’ll play Costume Quest 3, if Double Fine decides to make more, but I’d love to see this evolve more mechanically. Granted, I think it was a surprise to everyone that this sequel alone got made. That said, I’m getting a copy of Costume Quest 2 this month on PlayStation 3 from PlayStation Plus and, for once, I will not even bother downloading it. I’ve done everything there is to do in this cartoonish Halloween-land. Until the next thwart on withholding candy from children, I guess.

Extra Life 2016

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Hi, everyone! I’m doing Extra Life this weekend. A whole 24 hours of playing them fun-as-fun-gets video games. My goal is to hit $800 for the Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, NJ. If you donate $25 or more, I’ll draw a cartoon portrait of you.

More details can be found at my participant page.

And you can follow along and watch me stream a bunch of random things over at Twitch!

Time is of the essence when you have to Race the Sun

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I first glimpsed the scorching hot light that is Flippfly’s Race the Sun last year at the tail-end of my Extra Life stream when, one might say, I myself was racing the sun to stay awake for the final few hours of charity-driven gaming. I was playing my Steam copy using an Xbox 360 controller to do the needful, and I found it to be a stylish, engaging experience of piloting an airship to the end of a bunch of regions before the sun sets. That last tidbit is very important considering that the airship is solar-powered, so if the sun sets or if you spend too long in shadows you’ll lose energy and come crashing to a dead halt.

Strangely, if you look over some of my gaming history, it’s evident that I’m a fan of endless runners. Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run 2 are good examples of that genre done well, done with enough addictive hooks to keep me going. Substance over style is the key element here, as an endless runner doesn’t need to have super realistic graphics for it to be enjoyable, but the activities you can do as the main character pushes forward without warning are where the game becomes fun or a chore. I don’t mind picking up gems, so long as picking them up feeds into a side quest or becomes currency for upgrades. It can’t literally just be endless running.

Again, the core gameplay of Race the Sun is pretty straightforward: race the sun until it sets. You control a solar glider that relies on sunlight to keep it powered; in order to survive, you also have to avoid a number of obstacles, such as sentient square blocks, tall pyramids, spinning windmills, and falling towers. Due to the game’s minimalistic art style, it can be hard to tell what some of these shapes are; perhaps they are just shapes in the end, lost in a forest or crumbling cityscape. As your ship rushes forward, you can pick up different booster types (jump, shield) as well as hit warp portals, which zip you right to the end of a region, no questions asked.

For many, endless runners are all about the high score. Strangely, I don’t really care about a number attached to my name listed on a board with similar results in Race the Sun. I prefer going for the side challenges, such as collect three boosters in mid-air in a single run or use the warp portal five times, which help you level up and unlock new abilities and decals for your airship. If you are interested in a high score, you’ll want to collect as many Tris, which are blue-colored pickups, to up your multiplier while also trying to survive running into things. Though some side challenges ask you to do that, which is fine by me.

To back all your quick reflexes, barrel rolls, and boosting ahead is an electronica, drum beat-infused soundtrack that is beyond catchy. You can buy it separately over here. It also builds with your progress, which really hammers home the sense of almost there during the end of the later regions.

I’m not certain about this, but it seems like Race the Sun‘s world is reconstructed after a set period of time (maybe every few days or a week?) so while I have become familiar with the layout of the gray-colored world in these last few sessions, that will all change shortly. Unlike with Tower of Guns, this is a rogue-light that I can really just pick up and play for a bit, though I’m stuck at level 17 currently, with two of the three side challenges available being of the “only turn left for two regions” or “only turn right” ilk, which are difficult to master. Either way, that sun is always setting, and my job is to not see that happen. Happy racing, all.

Just can’t seem to quit Rogue Legacy’s random castles

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It was actually quite easy to walk away from Rogue Legacy on Steam, addictive as it was. I only got far enough to beat the first boss Khidr, but I refused to play the game with mouse and keyboard; it’s very much a controller-driven action platformer, and it seems I run into more and more problems every time I plug in my Xbox 360 controller to my laptop. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it only works if you plug it in after a game boots or before a game boots. I don’t know. All in all, it’s never reliable, and so I haven’t really played Rogue Legacy since my passionate burst back in October 2014 during my Extra Life stream–and a little distance afterwards.

True story time: I started writing this blog post a few weeks ago just as I got back into Rogue Legacy thanks to its PlayStation Plus status as a February freebie, but I’m only returning to writing this mess of words and paragraphs after beating the game a few days ago. Such is the way I work.

Okay, back on track now. This game is still and will always be freakin’ addicting. No, really–other people think so too. This person says it is Zelda 2 on mushrooms,” which is a fun description. Carolyn Petit examines the balance of internal growth and external rewards when it comes to scouring these randomly generated castles. Some good reading there. Return here when you’re done.

For those that don’t remember, the main goal of Rogue Legacy is to enter a castle and gather as much treasure as possible by killing every monster in sight, including mini-bosses and progress-blocking bosses. Here’s the rub–every time you enter the castle, the layout, which includes the traps, treasure chests, monsters, secret rooms, etc, is randomized. After your character dies, and you can guarantee he or she will perish at some point, you select an offspring of theirs from a list of three, all of whom are also randomly determined. Basically, it’s replayability to the max, with each next run a new chance.

Without the randomizing aspect, Rogue Legacy‘s difficulty would be without value. You could memorize the entire layout, know where every enemy is and know exactly how to play your leading hero. Each and every time. In fact, you could probably run it blind, and this astounding, addictive experience would get lost among a zillion other similar–if still pretty good–side-scrolling action platformers. That’s not to say that randomizing is everything; skills are needed, especially when it comes to fighting the bosses or learning how to survive on a slither of health until you find something to eat. Even after twenty-plus hours, I’m still no master of the down-strike attack you can do while jumping, often timing it too early and missing the mark, whether it is an enemy’s noggin or a needed platform over a floor of spikes.

Beating Rogue Legacy doesn’t mean the adventure is over. Naturally, there’s a new game plus mode, which you get dropped right into upon the credits finishing, and this saves all your progress, but ups the ante when it comes to room layouts and the strength of the base enemies. You can also go after the four door-blocking bosses again in hopes of seeing what that final fight is like, but on a whole new level. I’m doing this, but not with the same fervor as my first run complete run through the bosses happened, and that’s okay. Still, the addiction is there, and, like a bag of potato chips, I can’t just eat one; each time I sit down with Rogue Legacy, I lose an hour or so, making small increases to my character’s health and mana stats, and possibly finding a new blueprint. Right now, I need to be focusing on some art projects, so I expect to keep my distance from the game for a bit, but sooner or later it’ll suck me back in; one can only not scratch an itch for so long.

Hoping back into Rogue Legacy these last few weeks also rekindled my disgust for mimic treasure chests. I also had trouble dealing with the eyeballs that shoot red tears through walls, especially when they are out in numbers. Truth be told, just about every enemy in this game can kill you if you’re not careful or know how to take care of them, no matter what traits you are rocking. Generally, I tried to always go with the characters with the least vision-affecting traits as possible, which meant no colorblindness, no nostalgia, no upside-down POV, and such. I could handle the no 3D vision one, but everything else just distracted me and lead to a quick grave. The Lich King class is extremely powerful, with his or her HP growing higher with every kill.

If you’re ever looking for a game that is both punishing and immensely difficult to put down, search no further. Rogue Legacy will strip you to your core, but reward you for all your hard work, when you make the effort, that is. It’s a game I expect to continue nibbling at for the rest of 2015.

Grinding Down’s new year gaming resolutions for 2015

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I’m strange. Sometimes I like to openly talk about a challenge or new goal, such as when I decided to draw 365 bad comics over the course of an entire year, while other endeavors are handled more privately without anyone being the wiser. In fact, I’ve already started on a few over the last several months, and some of those plans will never be brought to light. I’m okay with that. I’m the shyest man yearning for recognition, afraid to be recognized. Again, I’m strange.

As far as I’ve seen over the last few days, game resolutions generally boil down to the same idea: play that game. Whether I do or not is the real challenge, and I’ve had some ups and downs over the last few years when it came to this, but I’m willing to put it out there again, a list of games I own, want to play, and then put away (in my mind).

In 2013, I wanted to beat five specific games I had previously played but never saw credits roll. I ended up beating three of the five, and though my math skills leave a lot to desire, I thought that was pretty good, especially when you consider that Chrono Cross is no short romp through an alternate dimension.

For 2014, I naturally wanted to beat those other two names I missed out on, but that never happened. Then I started playing Suikoden and Suikoden II, with the (laughable) idea I’d get through the rest of the series in short order now that I own all of them. Well, all except for Suikoden Tierkreis. Cue wet fart sound effect? I also had illusions of grandeur for the Metal Gear series, completing the first five games, with plenty more to go. Not “swings and a miss,” but more like “swings and good job, you’re on second base,” now waiting for another player to hit you home. I’ll get through both series in due time, hopefully before Gameageddon actually happens.

With that, here are my gaming resolutions for two thousand fifteen (that’s how all the cool kids are writing it this year). Trumpet blast a-hoy:

1. Stay one step ahead of Giant Bomb for its Metal Gear Scanlon feature. That means I’m not rushing through Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater just yet, which is also the last of the bunch that I’ve actually played. Peace Walker, Guns of the Patriots, and Ground Zeroes will be totally new experiences to me, and I’m looking forward to them greatly, but I don’t want to burn out either on too much too fast. I enjoy watching Dan and Drew react to the wackiness that is Hideo Kojima’s mindset, but only after I’ve swallowed the crazy sugar first.

2. Since I didn’t get to them in 2013 or last year–double shame on me!–both Final Fantasy IX and Radiant Historia are first on the list of must-see-all-the-way-through items. I really don’t want to arrive into 2016 knowing those cute, cuddly critters are still clawing at my ankles, desperate for attention.

3. Silent Hill 3. There, I said it. Or rather, I wrote it. Even though I’m still not over my harrowing time with Silent Hill 2, I must persevere. I’m not ready to explore why.

4. Come up with another new feature at Grinding Down for the year. Games I Regret Parting With seems to be a big fav, but I’ll eventually run out of those to dissect. I used to do Achievements of the Week and Half-hour Hitbox, but those lost steam after awhile, mostly because I lost steam. If you have any ideas or niches you’d like to see my cover, y’know, other than all these unheard of freeware joints or obscure point-and-click adventure games, let me know. I’m interested if you’re interested.

5. Get proper equipment like a microphone and learn how to stream better in preparation for  the next Extra Life event. I want to do it again and have friends over and raise lots of money for those that need it more than me. I’m even hoping to hold out on several games still in hopes of playing them live that during those twenty-four hours.

All right, we’ll stop there. Resolutions are tricky because you can just keep stacking them, and like I said, for gaming stuff, it often ends up being a list of games you want to play. I have too many to even start counting, and most of them are long, lengthy JRPGs, like Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny and Xenosaga. Cue mad scientist laugh? Yeah, cue it hard.

What are some of your new year’s resolutions, gaming-related or not?

Ridding a lambent tree of every evil, parasitic creature

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Originally, despite having owned a copy of Botanicula for a good while now, I was planning to experience it firsthand raw, in the flesh, during my Extra Life stream in this past October. However, when I went to load it up, something turned wonky with my streaming program and was not able to capture footage despite being able to capture other windowed games prior. Instead of sitting there and pounding my head against a metaphoric wall, I moved on to another title to keep the action hot, but always planned to get back to Amanita Design’s bug-based point-and-click adventure game.

So, what’s the narrative all about? Botanicula centers around a rag-tag group of tree-dwelling creatures searching for the last seed of their home, a giant tree unfortunately infested by evil parasites. Sure, this excursion sounds ultra serious and something the U.S. EPA could get behind, but there’s a great deal of humor to eat up thanks to the game’s zany five heroes and creative critter designs. For the first half of the adventure, the game’s environments and clickable bugs are bright and amusing (for example, the tambourine bug above), though things get pretty dark by the end, both figuratively and literally. Either way, it’s a straightforward story with a lot of personality, but few surprises–and that’s okay. It’s good versus evil, life versus nature, cute bugs versus villainous spiders.

Gameplay-wise, Botanicula is a puzzle game, one that often asks the player to think outside the box. That said, many puzzles simply devolve down to clicking/tapping on the most obvious of things on the screen (the bugs themselves, large plants, strange items) and watching what happens; generally, something happens. There is no in-game hint system or even text-on-screen guide to point players in the right direction, but the puzzles never got to the place where progress felt unmovable. Every screen has a number of tiny secrets to discover, too. My favorite section was about midway through the journey, when the gang arrives in a large village of problematic onion houses, asked to gather a number of birds to help run a machine. The puzzles here were sometimes isolated to a single house, while others gave you items to use elsewhere. Still, this is more a point-and-click exploration romp than an adventure game.

Let’s pause and talk about Botanicula‘s soundtrack. Which is astounding. The constantly unpredictable and tinkling audio is supplied by the Czech band DVA and is peppered throughout the game in numerous ways. Some scenes are interactive, with you making the music by bouncing on mushrooms or clicking bugs in a certain order, while other tunes are rewards for solving a puzzle or making some insect happy. It’s all very pleasing, except when it is scary, and then it is terrifying.

Last year, I finally got around to playing–and completing–Machinarium, which is truthfully no easy task. Some of those puzzles were absolutely maddening, and yet I couldn’t not solve them. Amanita Design’s games brim with color and character, not to mention colorful characters, and the switch from robots to bugs in Botanicula does little to change that hard-earned fact. I think I ended up looking up a single puzzle solution this time around, and it turned out I was on the right track to solving it myself, but just didn’t take it all the way there. Your inventory never becomes bloated, and it is usually pretty clear where you need to go or what you need to collect to move forward.

In total, Botanicula took about three to four hours to get through, and I ate it up in a single sitting over the Thanksgiving break while enjoying some quiet time down at my father’s place in South Jersey. As you go along and encounter all the various friendly/non-friendly insects, you collect animated cards of them; if I had been playing a Steam version, I think those are all related to Achievements. Anyways, I didn’t collect them all by the time the credits rolled, but I got enough to open up two bonus menu items after completing the game. I might YouTube what you get for collecting all the cards. Either way, I’m so glad I finally got around to ridding this tree of evil bugs; it was an odd little trip, but without a doubt memorable.