Tag Archives: Fez

Tower of Heaven is a tough, rule-stacking platformer

tower of heaven final overall imp

Much like with Persist, I am finding myself drawn to platformers that really mix the genre up so that it is no longer simply about jumping left to right, down to up. Those simplistic actions are totally fine, given that that’s where this genre really began with Super Mario Bros. and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, but eventually the premise wears thin, and there needs to be something else tossed into the machine to create a different style of play.

Again, in Persist, you lost abilities, like being unable to swim in water or even jump, which made traditional platforming problematic and demanded you figure out a way around regardless. In Fez, which is probably more puzzler than platformer, you could rotate the level to traverse to new areas, find hidden secrets, and see everything in a new light. Braid had you playing with time. Sonic the Hedgehog, which I’ve never been good at, placed more of an emphasis on speed than straightforward platforming, and 3D titles like Jumping Flash! took advantage of a rather unique and challenging perspective for platforming purposes, with the camera locked in first person mode, which made leaping to extreme heights both exhilarating and disorienting. And awesomely, I could list other examples, but I think that’s decent for now.

Well, in Askiisoft’s Tower of Heaven, our game of the moment, there’s a rule book you acquire early on, and if you don’t follow the rules, you die–plain as paper. Designed to look like a Game Boy romp of old, this challenging platformer looks more innocent than it really is. By the time you pick up the second or third rule, it’s just as difficult as the masochistic platformers of this past generation–I guess I can say that now since we’re moving on to the next one with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One finally exiting their respective dungeons–namely, Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be the Guy. It’s difficult and leaves nearly no room for error, especially once you can’t go left, touch the side of blocks, and even touch other living beings. But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself.

The plot. Yup, there’s a plot. You are a lost soul, represented as a dark shadow of a human figure, and you are attempting to climb a…tower. Where does it go? Well, the game’s title should clue you in, but I couldn’t tell if that was meant to be taken literally or figuratively. A mysterious voice from above does not believe you can do it and begins to throw wrenches into your plans when it becomes clear you are unwilling to walk away from your heavenly goal. There’s some religious text at the very end that kind of confused me and felt like it was there to be “deep” and “thoughtful”, but really added little to the story. In each level, your goal is to reach the staircases and continue up. However, as you progress, the voice from above will place specific restrictions on you (such as you can no longer hit the left key or touch the side of walls), and these rules eventually stack on top of each other, meaning you have to constantly be aware of all the things you can’t do, as well as what you can. At one point, you weren’t even allowed to check the rules menu; if you hit the button to bring up the list, you exploded into pixels. It’s a fantastic gameplay idea, though it makes for tough towering.

All that said, here’s about nine minutes of me going through the motions for Tower of Heaven‘s first few levels. Warning: my mic audio is very high and airy, and I’m still tinkering with my settings to learn what works and what doesn’t for recording purposes. Again, if anyone has any tips, I’ll take ’em. Just throw them at my head; I’m using OBS now to record gameplay footage and a LogiTech headset.

I played more after the video ends and was able to beat Tower of Heaven after about twenty or twenty-five minutes on the final few levels. I came very close to giving up entirely though, that’s how challenging it got. When the rule states that you can no longer touch living beings like butterflies and grass, well…you begin to notice that stuff is all over the place. Anyways, the ending was simply okay, if a bit muddled in its own revelations and heavy religious tone, but I dug it nonetheless. Just like in VVVVVV, you get a stats screen at the end, and mine showed that I died a total of 154 times, which I am totally not ashamed of. If you’re into retro games with some challenge, this one is definitely worth checking out.

A maze of magic mirrors in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

kirby and the amazing mirror GBA impressions

Well, we can add Kirby and the Amazing Mirror to the list of games with maps that I absolutely hate. Others on that list include Fez, LEGO Lord of the Rings, and Fable II, if you’re curious. For good maps, check out Costume Quest or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and love how easy they are navigate. Also, Minecraft.

A map should be both functional and follow-able, a handy accessory to help with one’s journey. For maps, I like to see markers for special spots and things to do, as well as the ability to place my own destination marker. Also, show me what direction I’m walking in or facing at, not just where I am currently standing. For 3D realms, seeing which direction I’m facing is vital to knowing where to continue heading forward or side-stepping to the left instead. Without that help, it’s just aimless wandering. Unfortunately, the map in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is beginning to feel like the type that requires a long and detailed review of maps to ensure that all rooms and paths have been taken.

If you skip the little intro cutscene for Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, you miss nearly all the story beats. Which I did in my eagerness to begin playing. Oopsie. Evidently, here is what is happening: a sinister presence has invaded the Mirror World, which sits high and mighty above Dream World, and all the mirrors are now reflecting bad things. Meta Knight goes off to fix things, eventually disappearing in the process. Later, Kirby is attacked by a shadow Meta Knight, splitting our friendly pink puffball into four. They all then hop on a  Warpstar to chase after him. And that’s all the set up you get.

It plays like every other Kirby videogame, with you sucking enemies into Kirby’s mouth and eating them to gain powers, like lasers, swords, stone, and Cupid. You can puff yourself up to fly and shoot little things of air. Also, um, you have a…cell phone, which you can use to teleport you back to the mirror hub level or call in help from your colored counterparts. You traverse levels going from left to right, right to left, down to up, and sometimes from up to down. Everywhere you go, there are mirrors, which are doorways to other levels, and many of them are hidden or locked behind a barrier that requires the right power Metroidvania style to access. Alas, this means pre-planning and carefully keeping your power from several levels prior, which I’m bad at. It’s not difficult gameplay, just the kind that requires a lot of back and forth and awareness. Also, bosses I’ve fought so far include a lightning cloud and angry tree. So, y’know…Kirby.

If hopping in and out of mirrors isn’t your thing, there’s also three minigames in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. They are cute, but you’ll play them once, see what they are about, and never go back. At least, that’s what I did. They all require a single button press. In Speed Eaters, you wait for a pan to reveal whether it has apples or bombs; if it’s the former, press A before any other Kirby, and you get the apples. Fill up your hunger meter first to win. Crackity Hack has you powering up a super punch to break a crack in the ground, seeing if you can go the farthest. Lastly, Kirby’s Wave Ride has you surfing and catching waves for speed bonuses. Again, they are exactly what they are called: mini-games. Nothing more, nothing less.

Right now, I’m around 17% complete, with two mirror shards found and put back into place. Gotta hop back through some mirror gates with the right powers on Kirby to find more. I wish you could at least store a second power somewhere. Like, deep within Kirby’s cheeks, hamster-style. Think about it. Oh well.

The sights and sounds of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

The longer I don’t play any of those PC games I’ve gotten over the past year or so from too many indie bundle collections to name, the bigger my collection grows untouched with each new tantalizing bundle that adds to it. In fact, I’ve started passing up great deals simply because my digital collection is truly bloated. If I was to be honest, I still have a hard time remembering I have a gaming laptop now, as I mostly use my Macbook still, especially since that’s where I do a lot of my writing and all of my comics. My bad. But I finally bit the bullet, pulled the plug, kicked the can–what have you.

Seeing as Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is the new Braid/Cogs in terms of being coupled in nearly every new bundle that drops, I figured it was a good place to start. Plus, the look of the thing alone has had me intrigued since word-of-mouth about the little sound-based fantasy adventure came out, but since I’m the type of person who lacks both a smartphone and/or an iPad–and I can’t really even forecast when I’ll ever get such a device–I’ve had to wait  for it to get ported to the PC. Which was done back in May 2012. I got my copy of Sword & Sworcery from Humble Indie Bundle V, installed it to Steam, and quickly forgot about it because I have that tendency to do so. Maybe this is a forthcoming 2013 New Year Resolution in the works…

I guess the easiest way to describe Sword & Sworcery is that it’s an indie adventure game. Sound and atmosphere play extremely important roles, but there’s also some timing-based combat and puzzle elements to boot. You control The Scythian as he/she explores a mythic realm, uses a sword to do battle, and wields sworcery–song-based magic to get down to it–to solve musical mysteries. You’ll meet a small cast of humble locals as you move around the land, as well as some nefarious monsters, like a pursuing demon wolf-beast. There’s some other stuff that’s not really clear, like these tomes and mentions of antlered gods, but it all does a wonderful job of sustaining a fantastical yet believable other-world. Strange structures, that flipped Triforce symbol that appears now and then, an actual usage of a record to represent Side A and Side B of a place–moments of wonder, all of them. It makes each new location exciting to explore.

Let me take a moment to discuss the real meat of Sword & Sworcery: the music. The music, Grinding Down readers. It’s both calming and hypnotic, and at times absolutely unnerving. Just like the soundtrack from Fez. I’ve spent more time listening to the tunes than playing the game at this point. “The Ballad of the Space Babies” does something to my insides that I can’t, without a medical degree, accurately describe. But I’ll try. It fills me with air, it lifts me up. There’s a promise of friends whispered off the horizon, and cloud-walls that ripple with each breath to lead me there. I am floating, moving through space and heading home. Only I know the way. It feels like forever, but the speck of light is growing, crowning, now radiant, with eyes open. When I get there, they close; the ballad’s journey is over, and I’m safe.

Another part of the game that I’m enjoying, but those that follow me on Twitter are likely not is the fact that nearly everything can be tweeted directly from the game. Small bits of narration, descriptions, instructions, and even dialogue. I’m choosing my tweets carefully, but because there’s a lot of whimsy and downright silliness to the writing in Sword & Sorcery, it is often hard to resist tweeting out every encounter. For now, here’s some I’ve done:

More to come though.

So far, I’ve completed Session 1 and Session 2. Both sessions are around thirty to forty-five minutes long, depending how fast you move and how quick you figure out the song-based puzzles. The sheep one in Session 2  took me a little bit to figure out, but otherwise nothing too difficult. Moreover, the boss fight that completes Session 2 is more stressful than challenging, requiring constant attention and quick reflexes, which are probably easier to do on an iPad or phone that moving a mouse cursor left and right. I’ll get better, now that I know what to expect from these situations, but I got that Gold Trigon with only one star of health left. Whew.

I’ve taken some time off of work next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, and besides catching up on a lot of drawing for my 365 BAD COMICS project, I’m looking forward to playing some of these games of mine a wee bit more, with Sword & Sworcery‘s Session 3 high on the list. I’ll be back. Until then, keep clicking, listen hard, and float away.

To comprehend Fez is to comprehend one of life’s greatest mysteries

As you might’ve seen recently, I beat Fez. Just to clarify one thing–I did not beat Fez recently, only posted recently that I beat it. Clarity on that is important, as I’ve had plenty of time now to ponder and muse over the indie darling that demands scrutiny and dissecting tools to really get under its skin. Supposedly, that’s where things get interesting. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t really know.

Before I start, a note: since I’m not sure what is what in Fez‘s world of cubes and shapes and shapely cubes and how you interpret things, any of the below could be considered spoilerish. Read at your own risk.

So, I reached Fez‘s “kill screen” by using 25 cubes and 7 anti-cubes to open the final door. Thankfully, I was able to get enough regular cubes by finding my way into the sewers, which a high number of people seem to miss on their first run, and therein the connecting levels to them; otherwise, I would’ve really had to put my thinking cap on to obtain most of those anti-cubes in order to proceed. I had treasure maps and a sliver of an idea for a few of them–but my attempts ended all the same: spinning that room, checking that map, trying a few random button sequences, and moving along after too many uneventful minutes.

Anyways, here are the notes I took while playing Fez:

I think I got close on a few things, but, more or less, it all looks Greek to me. I did my best to avoid looking answers up online while I was playing Fez, but in the hazy days afterwards I did stumble across some clearer clues, and to be honest, despite being an editor for nearly eight years now and priding myself on knowing English and idioms and the way language works–well, I’d never have figured this out. I’m just not familiar enough with that phrase.

I skipped the bell. I skipped the clock. I skipped the pyramid sitting in water, which clearly had some kind of hidden door below it. I skipped that treasure chest just beneath the ground, the one where you could only see its silhouette. I skipped that room with all the doors. I skipped all those weird pillars that your floating glowthing guide would point out in wonderment. I skipped that weird door that only revealed itself when the sun set. I skipped a lot of parts that seemed important, but were undecipherable, and I’m okay with that. Fez really is two games in one, and I appreciate that there’s a crazy complicated child in it, but prefer the straightforward runthrough over it. The platforming is adequate and quite simple, but the experience of entering a door, finding a new level, and learning how to climb up it via spinning was quite relaxing…and rewarding. Mostly because when you collected a whole cube, glorious beams of light and sunshine shot out of little Gomez.

After the “kill screen” craziness is over, you can start a New Game+ to go and find those bereaved cubes and anti-cubes. I jumped in out of curiosity and played around with one of the new abilities you earn for finishing the game once. It’s neat, but I’m not sure how it’s really going to help unlock more cubes. And that said, I just don’t think I’m going to go after ’em. Fez was a great experience to play part in, learning and not learning and trudging through it stupidly, but now that I know a few things–not everything, mind you–it just seems less fantastical. I wish I could’ve figured it all out on my own, but I’m not terribly distraught that I didn’t.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #14 – Fez

As the Fez world turns
So do symbols, clues, cubes, keys
Too dumb to grok it

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Achievements of the Week – The Professional Third and 30 Kill Screen Edition

I missed out on doing Achievements of the Week last week as I was away on business. Actually, I was in New York City to sell comics with my wife and friends at MoCCA Festival 2012, which is technically a business venture of our own, one intermingled with pleasure as comics sure are dang fun. It just always sounds so much more professional to say “on business” versus “selling comic books,” and I strive to come across professional, day in, day out. Hmm…okay, that’s not true. I just wanted some harmony to exist between these words I type and an Achievement I unlocked in Trials Evolution, which you’ll see in a sec. The things I do for syncrisis…

So, this is another grab at playing catch up. Four games get covered, with two of them limelighting the Achievements you get for completing the games. Mmm. I really do like completing games. It’s a good goal to currently have as I have a huge backlog of stuff unfinished or even untouched and not a lot of exciting titles coming out in the near future. Yeah, I’m not counting Game of Thrones: The Game as exciting. But that sense of satisfaction and seeing something all the way through is rewarding on its own.

Right, let’s go.

From Fez…


Warp zone (15G): Like folding a sheet of paper.


Kill screen (25G): Visited the Visitors.

Yeah, I beat the game. I saw its ending. I sat there confused and smiled at a certain part. I started New Game+. I still don’t really understand everything though I do think about cubes and shapes and what they ultimately mean in life a lot more these days.

From Trials Evolution…


The Professional (30G): Successfully complete the single player career.


Extreme Prejudice (20G): Complete any Extreme track.

Don’t ask me how I got this. Honestly, I don’t remember. I must have completed one of the extreme tracks in a wild fever, eyes unblinking, hands moving with speed and skill, the track falling apart as I vroom vroomed forward, a monster making its way to victory.

From The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim…


Hero of Skyrim (30G): Capture Solitude or Windhelm

The realm is nearly all mine. Also, I talked about the Achievement for obtaining 100,000 gold over here.

From Saints Row: The Third…


Third and 30 (40G): Played SR3 for 30+ hours, why stop now!?

Got this during my lunchbreak today. More specifically, I got this after I left the game on in the background and went and did the dishes and drank some iced tea. Talk about skills.

So, how have the last two weeks been for you and your ol’ Xbox 360? Tell me about an Achievement you’ve gotten recently. If not, I might not get out bed tomorrow from lack of love–and yeah, that’d be your fault. So, please, be kind. Share with the world your victories. I’ve already done my part.

Find your way in Fez, go right here and do this in Metroid Fusion

Currently, I’m playing two videogames that are the polar opposites of one another: Fez and Metroid Fusion. Well, there are some ways they are similar. Both are platformers, asking the player to navigate rooms and levels, either by traversing left or right or up and down or via secret paths. Both feature relatively retro graphic styles that are pleasing to the eyes. Both have lackluster jumping, with Gomez feeling very floaty and Samus being too finicky. But that’s kind of it.

Otherwise, one game demands you put in the time and cranial crunching to figure out where to go next and what to do, and the other…well, there’s a computer program that marks your next destination and objective extremely clearly on your mini-map. One requires you to take notes, the other does it for you. One has electrified water, one has water levels you can raise and lower with a turn-switch. If you didn’t know which one is which, Fez is the open field of daisies and Metroid Fusion is the gust of wind pushing you down the path to the market.

I find both styles of gameplay pleasing and frustrating. Various reasons exist, of course. For Metroid Fusion, which I’ve been playing in small bits in bed before the Sandman takes me away, it’s been real nice to have a clear goal, a place to go to, a boss to kill, and a save room right after it. That’s not to say that, across the grand scheme of the Metroid franchise, it’s not disappointing to see such heavy hand-holding, especially when Super Metroid kept its distance from beginning to end, allowing the player to live and learn via trial and error. In Fusion, specially named Navigation Rooms fill out your entire map, whereas you once had to do that on your own. But it’s fine for now. The A.I. commander nicknamed “Adam”  tells me what my next objective is, and if I somehow forget, I just click the objective button on the map and get refreshed. It’s linear and predictable, but the game was originally made for the GBA, which means it was designed to be played portably, and in that it is extremely successful.

In Fez, I wander. I wander, and I wonder. I spend a lot of time looking at walls, spinning rooms, jumping and spinning rooms to little effect. There is little instruction doled out, and even your floaty companion is little help, as it is just as cryptic as the alien-esque hieroglyphics. You see things that may or may not be important, and you move on, promising to return when you have further knowledge. At one point, I came to the conclusion that I needed to take notes, and these scribbles did little to explain the way of Fez‘s world, but it felt important, felt necessary. At certain places, such as the bell or the clock, my note-taking just felt stupid and pointless and that I would never understand what was probably right in front of my face.

I started writing this blog post on Wednesday and then managed to “beat” Fez last night. I found the “kill screen” by using 25 cubes and 7 anti-cubes (as well as a handful of treasure maps, one unused key, and one single artifact). I have some thoughts on all that, but I think I’ll save it for a separate post. Guess that’s another difference between it and Metroid Fusion; the latter isn’t special enough to warrant further thinking.