Tag Archives: free-to-play

Cut the Rope, grind out some free Achievements

I’m a curious fella, and so I like to download a range of freebies, judging nothing by its cover or title or clearly-designed-for-mobile artstyle, from walking simulators to platformers to physics-based puzzle games. Like Cut the Rope. Now, I got Cut the Rope as a free download on the Windows Store back in November 2016, many moons after everyone probably already played it on their phones. Or somewhere else. No, really. Allow me to list a few of the places you could have already played ZeptoLab’s indie darling from October 2010: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Leap Motion, BlackBerry 10, Symbian, BlackBerry PlayBook, DSiWare, Mac OS X Browser, BlackBerry, Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo eShop), Chrome OS, Firefox OS, Nook, iPad, and so on. I’m sure I missed a few platforms too. Sheesh.

Cut the Rope‘s objective, from its title alone, should be self-explanatory, but there’s a little more to it than simply snipping some string. Sorry, I love alliteration. Your true goal is to feed candy to a little green creature named Om Nom while collecting stars. The candy just happens to be tied up by a bunch of ropes, and by cutting them and using other elements in the level, like bubbles and puffs of air, along with general physics and momentum, you must guide the candy to Om Nom’s gaping mouth. You can use your finger to cut by swiping it across the touchscreen, but I’m cooler than that and played it on my laptop so imagine the same sweet maneuver, but done on a less-than-stellar trackpad. Boom goes the dynamite. It actually works fine, with the bonus of not having to look at my phone any more than I already do.

I was initially under the impression that Cut the Rope was like nearly every other free-to-play iteration built around getting three stars in a level out there–y’know, Angry Birds, Bad Piggies, Crush the Castle, and on for infinity. Nope. Well, not this version from the Windows Store, at least. If anything, this is Nintendo’s take on free-to-start, with only the first six levels of the first two worlds available for play and the remainder under lock and key. I thought I’d get the whole game and just have to occasionally close some advertisements or deal with an energy meter that limited how much I can play. Turns out, my play time was constricted, to only 12 levels that clearly hinted at fun gameplay and a super cute aesthetic, but I found one way to milk this cow for all it ultimately had. Ew, milk. I must think of a better metaphor for next time; anyways, I’m talking about Achievements. They’re those digital rewards I’m still somewhat interested in popping for the games I play.

Yes, despite only have access to a few early levels, I was able to unlock nine of Cut the Rope‘s 19 Achievements. Not bad for zero pennies and maybe an hour and change of my time. These Achievements revolved around doing tasks a specific amount, such as cutting X ropes, popping X bubbles, and losing X pieces of candy and were easily earn-able through repetition. Find a level that quickly lets you cut, pop, and drop, do it, restart, and the cycle is formed. I was also able to pop “Tummy Teaser,” which tasks you with getting Om Nom to open his mouth 10 times in a row in one of world 1’s basic levels, using a piece of candy on a single rope and having it swing back and forth in front of the teeny green beast for a bit. Strange enough, the Internet said this could only be done later on, in the full version. So this just proves my amazing prowess.

But yeah, ringing these twelve levels dry for Achievements with the music turned off and something else occupying my ears was the most fun I could come up with for Cut the Rope, seeing as the gameplay didn’t hook me enough to purchase the rest of the levels. I ran into this problem before with Can You Escape, also from the Windows Store, so I have to start being a little more critical in my downloading decisions because something labeled free might not always mean complete. That said, let the countdown begin until I inevitably grab Cut the Rope 2, which, in its description, says this:

SWEET! Cut the Rope 2 has arrived and you can enjoy the full adventure for FREE!

Uh huh. Sure.

Warning: enter Vault 713 at your own risk

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I waited a long time to play Fallout Shelter; I probably should have kept waiting. This free-to-play mobile room manager from big ol’ Bethesda was revealed and released to the world–well, for iOS devices–in June 2015 during the company’s E3 press conference. It later came to Android devices in August 2015. It never came and never will come to those that use a Windows phone despite that making some degree of sense. You might not know anyone in that last category, but if you are reading these words and follow Grinding Down, you at least know one sad soul–me. Well, it recently made its debut on Xbox One (and PC).

Allow me to run down what you do in Fallout Shelter since there’s no story to follow, save for whatever adventures you create in your brain as you tap and drag and force people to breed with one another. Basically, you build and manage your own Vault as an overseer–a.k.a., the never-questioned ruler of this nuclear safe haven. You guide and direct your Vault’s inhabitants, keeping them happy through meeting their essential needs, such as power, food, and water. You can rescue dwellers from the wasteland and assign them to various resource-generating buildings in your Vault, using the SPECIAL statistics system from the other Fallout games to key you in on their strongest abilities. Your dwellers level up over time, increasing things like health points and how good they are at producing resources. The number of Vault dwellers can grow two ways: waiting for new survivors from the wasteland to arrive at your doorstep or by pairing a male and female dweller in a living quarters room to, after some time has passed, produce babies.

Some other things exist to mix up the waiting on rooms-on-timers gameplay. You can take a risk and “rush” a room to completion. If you’re successful, you’ll get the resources right away, as well as some bonus caps. However, if you fail it, badness arrives in the form of fires, radroaches, or attacks from raiders. There are challenges to be mindful of, such as equipping a dweller with a weapon or gathering up X amount of food, and completing these will earn you caps or lunchboxes, which hold randomized loot. Once you build the Overseer’s room, you can send your people out on quests to find better items (weapons, armor) and caps. Everything takes time, and that makes way more sense for the mobile versions, but after sending out three people to shoot some wild radroaches I found myself staring at a bunch of rooms that wouldn’t be ready for harvesting for at least ten minutes with nothing else to do. Fallout Shelter is a game of waiting, which is not what I want when I plop down on the couch to play something.

On the Xbox One, navigating around the Vault is done via the thumbsticks. This can be a finicky process, and I once accidentally spent caps on removing boulders after the cursor jumped too far from the room I really wanted to select and gather resources from. This wasn’t the worst because, yeah, eventually I planned to clear them rocks, but I wanted it to be my decision, on my schedule. You can zoom in closer to the rooms to see some funny if frivolous bits of dialogue from your dwellers. The majority of the game is driven via menus, and accessing them is thankfully pretty simple and easy to use with a controller. That all said, I’m not a huge fan of the combat; it’s basically hands-off and hope you get some good invisible dice rolls like you’re back battling cliff racers in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, which is frustrating to witness. Here’s a true scenario from my time in Vault 713: a teeny tiny radroach nearly depleted my level 14 dweller’s health as she missed shot after shot after shot with a decent hunting rifle. Blargh.

I should have mentioned this earlier, but it’s pivotal towards my future progress in Fallout Shelter, of which there probably won’t be any more, so here we go: my Xbox One is broken. Or perpetually breaking. One of those. Some time after Black Friday last year, something happened. My “pins” disappeared from the front dashboard with a message saying, “Sorry, we can’t show these right now.” Then I discovered that I could access the store tab, but nothing I clicked on would work. I could mash the “A” button to no effect. Same goes for a lot of the advertisement tiles on other pages, unless they were tied to the Internet Explorer app. I tried doing a hard shutdown, unplugging my router, resetting the WiFi connection, and checking for further updates. Nothing seems to work. I am not interested in a factory reset, and I’ve managed, for the most part, to survive. I can still access apps like Netflix and Twitch and download those Games with Gold freebies by logging in on my Xbox 360 and adding them to my account. Lifehack central, y’all.

However, the other night, after gathering enough food, water, and power to keep my people beaming with happiness, I saved and shut the game down. A message came up that said the game was trying to sync my save with the Cloud, and so I let it do its thing, not wanting to mess anything up. Which never seemed to finish. Five minutes went by, then ten. Then twenty. Then thirty. There’s no way a game the size of Fallout Shelter takes that long to sync save data that is probably as big as a Cheez-It crumb. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait much longer and simply closed the console down as it was. When I tried to load the game up the next day, it couldn’t find my save even though it is also on my console’s internal memory, and the screen that shows your three save slots just spins infinitely, unable to find anything. I can’t even start a new Vault. This happened over a week ago, and I still can’t access Vault 713. And I was one room away from unlocking the Achievement for building 25 rooms. Grrr.

I could probably download Fallout Shelter on PC and either start again or see if my save in the Cloud carries over. I could, but I won’t. I’d rather play the Dead Money DLC from Fallout: New Vegas again. Or test my luck out in the wasteland proper. I thought I’d be more bummed about this, but there are a zillion other pieces of digital entertainment available at my fingertips.

Language is a reflection of ourselves in Missing Translation

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I originally ran through Missing Translation in a single, puzzle-driven sitting back in December 2016 and have desperately wanted to write about it, but other posts ended up taking priority over the wordless thing. You might view that as ironic, that I haven’t found the time for the right words yet to describe a project built solely on visual language. I definitely do. Fret not, for now I’m here, bright-eyed and inspired, with hopefully enough snappy prose to get the job done.

First off, Missing Translation is free to play on Steam, and for that fact alone, I do urge you to go play it before reading much more about it. Yup, I’m totally ushering you away from Grinding Down by the second paragraph of this post, which means I’m a terrible blogger. Also, it’s not because there’s insane plot twists or amazing watercooler-esque moments, but because it is the kind of interactive experience that is best experienced. It’s a game about language and, often, immersing yourself in something foreign and unknown is the best way to learn what is what and how the world spins. Like that time in college when I went to Montréal, Quebec, for Spring Break with only knowing a few French phrases. Spoiler alert: I totally made it out alive.

Right. Onward with the words. Missing Translation is a short game with intellectual puzzles that is all about teaching a visual language that’s based on drawing lines across a nine-node grid. By decrypting this secret language, one can really begin to understand what’s going on in this black-and-white-and-gray world full of foreign machinery, cats, and robots in funny hats. To be honest, I never grokked the entire thing, but was still able to complete the game and enjoy the uptick in difficulty for the puzzles.

You might have trouble believing that Missing Translation is wordless. Well, it is. From beginning to end. There’s no tutorial, hints, or text–as we know it–to be found, not even on the “start” menu. This means that anyone and everyone can enjoy the game regardless of their native language. It’s a universal conundrum for solving. There are about a hundred puzzles to figure out, varying from connecting dots on a grid in the right way to navigating through large screens brimming with totem-like blocks. Each one grows in difficulty and complexity as you dig deeper, and I couldn’t stop myself once I got started, for fear of forgetting what trick was behind each set of puzzles. This is why I ran through the entire game in a single gulp, unable to leave any bit unfinished. As they get solved, new friends and allies are unlocked to help guide the main protagonist–which can either be a man or woman–back to their world.

Missing Translation is more than a puzzle adventure game. Its got a wonderful premise, inclusive to all that want to click and think and learn, and while I might not know what every strange symbol means, much like in Fez, I had a fantastic and fulfilling time figuring out my way through its many locked doors.

You kind of control a pond’s ecosystem in Among Ripples

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One of my goals for 2017 is to chip away at my Steam library, and I’m using HowLongToBeat to help me determine where to start. Certainly not with Crusader Kings II, which the site claims is around 175 hours in total to see through to completion though I do what to give it a swing at some point after really enjoying the fun that was an old GBE Playdate.

Instead, I went with Among Ripples, estimated to eat up 19 minutes of my sweet, precious time. I think I ended up logging closer to 25 minutes before exiting out of the…experience and staring for a bit at my two cats, wondering where they’d fit into the whole survival of the fittest scheme. I actually think Pixie would last longer in the wild, hiding with all her might, while Timmy would totally walk up to a predator to lovingly rub his face on it. Ah, tiny domesticated lions.

There are no cats in Among Ripples, at least none that I could find. There is, however, an otter, and that made this slice of casual gaming all the more wonderful. Though I still really don’t know what it was. In descriptive terms, it’s a meditative ecosystem management simulator. You are the puppet master of a small pond, filling it with food and predators/prey, watching life unfold over the seasons. Basically, you add different creatures to the mix and see how everything interacts. I did this just fine, but kept expecting something more to happen beyond this, despite knowing that this was all there was to experience.

It’s an extremely simple slice of sandbox gaming. You can click on a few things to get life going and then sit back to take in the watercolored art and gentle, calming soundtrack. However, among all this niceness is the fact that nature is ruthless, and animals eat other animals. You must be prepared for this. They also do other things many might scoff at; one time, at the Philadelphia Zoo, I saw a giraffe drink another giraffe’s pee. Nature is surviving at all costs, whether we’re talking about reality or simulation.

Among Ripples is neat, but not enough. I understand that the goals are your own to set, and I watched an otter live through all the seasons, which is all I ever ask of otters, as well as saw a bunch of crayfish rot. I don’t plan to write a haiku review about it as I didn’t feel like it was technically something I completed, but rather dipped my toes in; sure, I could leave this up in the background one day and really watch the pond evolve, but I best move on. No worries though. To quote that eccentric, charming mathematician from Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” Just not in my pond going forward.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #81 – Missing Translation

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Explore the unknown
No words, no voice–just puzzles
You must understand

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.

Feverishly swiping away at my phone to Make It Rain

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I am a patient man. Perhaps maybe the most patient, but that is a test that anyone claiming such a thing could easily fail. I mean, if someone sits next to me and continues to flick my nose once every three seconds for the rest of my given life, I don’t expect to last long. For the most part, when it comes to videogames, I don’t mind having to wait. Sometimes the waiting, whether it is for a certain upgrade or pivotal story-beat, can be kept to the shadows when grinding or side quests are involved, and other times, like with a lot of today’s mobile entries, such as Disney Magical Kingdoms or The Sims FreePlay, the waiting is the entire game itself.

Make It Rain: Love of Money didn’t start out being a waiter, but it eventually hit a point where progress was unobtainable except through the passing of time. I’ll tell you how I know for sure in just a bit, but I guess I’ll cover the game’s story and mechanics first. Story-wise, it’s a mix of the thoughtful, coming-of-age journey Kaitlin’s sister experiences in Gone Home and the multiple dimensions, always-a-lighthouse time-funkaroo from BioShock Infinite, with a dash of Jazzpunk‘s zany playfulness thrown in for good measure. Okay, no. Just kidding. There isn’t a lick of narrative here, just a means to get digitally rich. Perhaps you are an absent-minded app developer who accidentally created this money-making product and must now figure out the quickest way to make it big. Your adventure may vary.

The game’s theme revolves around money, greed, and corruption, and opens with a Biblical quote, every single time, to remind you of the evils of temptation and your place as a servant to a higher being:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

That aside, once you are playing Make It Rain, the greed takes over, and all you can do is earn money and spend money to help earn more money faster in the future so that you’ll have more money to spend on earning money. Money money money. You can do this in a few ways, with the main method being swiping the screen in the same fashion that one might swipe a wad of money from their hands if they wanted to “make it rain” on a stripper. It’s an amusing means to an end, even if it’s demeaning in nature. I often made it rain on my cats, for what it’s worth. Another way to earn money is by putting your hard-earned green stuff into things like insider trading, subprime mortgages, and the bribing of political figures. Doing this raises how much money you earn by swiping, how much you earn when not swiping or the game is off, and how much your bucket can hold before you need to empty it and start again. All of this has me wondering how much cash I’ve accrued in Fable II since last turning it on.

Make It Rain is the type of experience that can be never-ending. I decided to toss a flag and march towards it, with the end goal being to unlock every Achievement. By September 2015, I had all of them, save for three. One Achievement was for purchasing two bee-related services, of which I had one already, and the other cost a whole lot of money that seemed, given the game’s pacing, decades away. The second was for swiping 100,000 times, which I’m convinced is glitched. Lastly, the developers would love to reward you with a digital picture and 5 Gamerscore if you connected the app to your Facebook account. Well, zip ahead a whole year later to today, and I’ve crossed off two of those three and decided that “Erased Fingerprints,” the Achievement for swiping way too much, is never gonna happen.

I hope to never write about Make It Rain again–really, there’s not much more to say, and a part of me is still baffled that I played this and consider it something one plays–so let me tell you how the last year went, which was all about earning $123 KBB to purchase the Electronic Apiary. I first started out trying to both increase the size of my bucket so it could hold more cash, as well as boost how much I got per hour when not playing the game. I quickly became less interested in actively making money and preferred to let the app work its magic in the background. This proved glacier-like slow, with each increase being so minor that you never really felt you were making any ground, but so major that all your funds were depleted and you had to start from square one. I then decided to give up on trying to upgrade either and simply empty my bucket whenever it filled all the way up, which was probably every day and a half or two days. Granted, I often forgot to do this, which only prolonged the experience. This took, oh, about a year, and I’ll point you back to the very first sentence of this blog post.

It’s strange. In just the last few weeks or so, I’ve polished off a number of games that have been lingering in my backlog for a good, long while: Final Fantasy IX, Crimson Shroud, Spyro the Dragon, and now this. Also, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, a game I’ve been tapping away at its puzzles since 2014, is creeping close to the finish line. It’s like these things happen in large, social waves, and I have to wonder if some of the games I’m playing now won’t see their special haiku rewards for still some time. Again, I really don’t mind the wait. Occasionally, it’s not ideal, but sometimes it’s all you can do. In terms of Make It Rain, money doesn’t grow on trees overnight.

Some of your dreams can come true in Disney Magic Kingdoms

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At some point, I do promise to write about Theme Park, which was not the greatest simulation game ever to be simulated, but it stands out in my mind as something special because my sister Julie and I played it together, creating less-than-stellar amusement parks and laughing at how many people we could get to hurl after going on our sick–and I do mean sick–rollercoaster designs. I also remember being extremely impressed, at the time, over the visuals, especially the 3D parts where you could go through the rides view a first-person POV. I guarantee the game doesn’t hold up one lick today, but it’s a sentimental entry in my gaming history nonetheless.

Disney Magic Kingdoms doesn’t let you do that or even really run an amusement park in a simulation fashion. You can’t adjust how much the hot dogs cost or what admission tickets go for on a weekend versus a weekday. It’s instead more about leveling up, both the rides and attractions you place on the ground, as well as the familiar characters inhabiting the park from open to close. Yes, you level up Mickey Mouse, and it is both satisfying and unnerving at the same time. Also, every time you complete a mission with a character, you collect your reward by tapping their upraised hand, giving them a digital high-five. I’m pretty okay with that, especially when it is Buzz Lightyear.

Magically, Disney Magic Kingdoms does come with a plot, as well as many small, off-to-the-side subplots. Here’s the big one: Maleficent casts an evil spell on the Kingdom, ridding it of all of its powerful magic, and it’s up to Mickey and his friends to bring everything back. A bit perfunctory, but it gets the job done, and this thing is clearly aimed at a younger generation, with its bright, colorful graphics and bouncy tunes, so it’ll never get darker than that. Basically, you’ll be trying to build specific attractions and bring in famous characters from all the popular franchises, ranging from Sleeping Beauty to Toy Story to The Incredibles. To do that, you need the right amount of currency and special items, which you collect from rides/attractions on timers and completing missions. Alas, some missions take sixty seconds to do, and others go for anywhere between six to twelve hours. Yikes.

I find that, obviously, Disney Magic Kingdoms, is best played in short bursts, with the goal of returning to it many, many hours later to see what got done and start the process all over again. I usually finish everything I need to do in under 10 minutes, and once you have checked all your rides for currency/items and given every character a quest there isn’t much else you can do except stare at your screen and wait. Might as well wait doing something else. However, let me confirm that it is a big bummer when, after waiting six hours for a quest to complete, you sometimes don’t get the item you want and have to try again. I’m sure there is a way to buy the item or complete the quest using real-life U.S. dollars, but I’m not interested in that. I’m saving my hard-earned cash-money for next month for Disney Magical World 2, which should come as no surprise to those that read my thoughts on the first game.

Oh, and I never really mentioned the whole Happiness aspect. See, a bunch of the park’s visitors are looking for things to make them happy, and that could be going on a specific ride or listening to Jessie yodel. Everyone has their kinks. Anyways, if you fill the Happiness meter up all the way, you can start a themed parade, which, for a limited time, allows rides and attractions to give off bonus magic and XP, and quests will also end with better rewards. Unfortunately, the Happiness meter drains when you aren’t playing, so I haven’t focused too hard on this area as it never feels worth the effort.

Being a free-to-play mobile game, Disney Magic Kingdoms is constantly changing. The game has gone through several updates already. One update brought in a timed event themed around The Incredibles and tapping on a bunch of evil robots invading the park. Looks like this week there’s an update that’s all about Pirates of the Caribbean. When will we get one focused on The Rescuers, hmm? There are also now chests akin to the chests from Clash Royale that you can find and open, but they are naturally on timers, and you can only open so many and open them so fast unless you are willing to spend the rarer currency of gems. No thanks. I mean, I’ll continue to open one chest at a time and hope for the best, but otherwise want nothing to do with this system.

Disney Magic Kingdoms is a more enjoyable time-killer, tap-taker than other games in this genre, but I wonder if that is mostly due to my love and appreciation of all things Disney. It really does help that the quests revolve around familiar, likeable characters, and that the carrot on the stick is unlocking more familiar, likeable characters. Plus, the game both looks and sounds amazing. They have Mickey’s “Oh boy!” and Goofy’s “Guffaw!” down perfectly, and the soundtrack features a number of memorable tunes. The characters are well animated, the environments are authentic, and you’ll find yourself whistling while you work as classic Disney themes play overhead.

Look, I’ll keep going with it, but I wonder if, just as with The Sims FreePlay, I’ll hit a point with Disney Magic Kingdoms where the grinding takes too long and becomes more of a nuisance than fun and close this park for good, only to ever see it appear again in one of those posts about creepy, neglected amusement parks overgrown with rust and decay.