Tag Archives: free-to-play

2019 Game Review Haiku, #17 – Ego Hearts

Warm paper airplanes
To heat up stone-cold bodies
Banish frigid months

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

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Murder once more and slide in style with Apex Legends

I’ll just start this post off with a humble brag: my squad won on my fourth go at Apex Legends, a new free-to-play battle royale game where legendary competitors battle for glory, fame, and fortune on the fringes of the Frontier. It comes to us from Respawn Entertainment, as well as EA, which previously made things like Titanfall, Titanfall 2, and Call of Duty, all of which I’ve never played. Well, there was that one time I tried a demo for some Call of Duty entry on the Xbox 360, but it didn’t go well; heck, it went so poorly that I never even bothered to document it on Grinding Down. Wah.

Anyways, the battle royale genre is looking like it is here to stay, at least for the near future, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really play a lot of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds these days, though I did hop into it recently to check out the snowy map, but I am still dipping into Fortnite Battle Royale mode to eat up all the various in-game challenges and level up my Battle Pass. This one, this Apex Legends, does a lot of neat things for the blossoming genre, many of which I fully expect to see show up in other games as soon as they can implement them, and I’m having a pretty good time overall despite not being the greatest guns-blazing attacker. Thankfully, there are support classes to rock and other ways to help out your teammates.

The setup is, more or less, as expected. There’s an island full of buildings, weapons, and differently named locations, and you’ll land on it with the goal of being the last team standing. Ah, see, this is a three-squad game, and there’s no solo mode. I really like that there’s a jumpmaster–basically, one person on your squad is randomly assigned this role, and they get to decide where to land–and everyone on your squad jumps together, locked in, though you can veer off if you want to, but Apex Legends stresses staying together, even offering numerous ways to, ahem, respawn downed teammates. A ring slowly closes over time, forcing squads to face off in smaller areas, and there’s a bunch of high-tech weapons to pick up, along with ammo, attachments, and health boosts.

Apex Legends stands out by offering a playable roster that’s more like what you’d find in a hero shooter like Overwatch, which, again, I’ve still not played, despite there always being a free weekend event for it like every month. Characters called Legends include a robot scout named Pathfinder, a hulking heavy known as Gibraltar, a skirmisher named Wraith who is surrounded by inter-dimensional sparks, as well as several others. They all play different roles, like stealth, healer, or scout, but no one character is faster or stronger than anybody else from the get-go. In addition to a special passive ability, Legends have a tactical move and an ultimate power, both of which are on cooldowns.

So far, for me, the neatest thing that Apex Legends is doing differently is based around reviving your squad members. When you die, your squad has a certain amount of time to get to you and revive you as you are bleeding out. If they don’t make it in time, they can still collect your “banner,” a customizable image that represents your character. At any point during the match, they can then run to a respawn beacon and insert your banner, which will respawn you in a dropship up in the sky. Naturally, there’s a risk to this—using the beacon takes time and leaves you exposed—but it’s a welcomed chance to get back into the game. Usually, in Fortnite or PUBG, after dying, I’d just drop back to the lobby, not caring what happened to my remaining teammates, but now there is more reason to stick around and see if you can rejoin the battle.

I’m real curious to see where Apex Legends goes. Maybe more maps and new characters to play as down the road? I wonder if it’ll make dramatic sweeping changes every season like Fortnite or stay more familiar like with Call of Duty: Blackout or PUBG. Time will tell, but it’s certainly off to a strong start. Also, if you must know, I’m most inclined to pick Pathfinder if given the chance; what, I like cheeky robots, and yes, that includes Claptrap.

Alice in the Mirrors of Albion is stuffed with hidden objects

We’ve gone over this before, but I enjoy a good hidden objects game. Give me a list of things to search for, and I’m ready to go. Don’t need a lot of frills or extra time-wasting work. All I want to really do is look at an image crowded with stuff and find the canary, the umbrella, the globe, the oven mitt, and the tiny bust. Thankfully–or maybe not, depending on how you feel–the market is drowning in games like these. For instance, if you look at Microsoft’s online marketplace, the count is mega-high, and that’s where I found Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, a hidden objects game that combines some detective work with Alice in Wonderland‘s fantasy world.

Right. Well, this is the newest hidden objects game from Game Insight, the creators of Mystery Manor, which I have not played. They make a lot of mobile games. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion takes place in a mystical version of Victorian England, fraught with intrigue, crime, and suspense. The biggest story is that Alice–yes, that Alice–has gone missing, and it’s up to you to figure out what happened. Y’know, but only after you examine scenes for hidden objects. You’ll also have to solve puzzles and experience the game’s unique-if-long-winded story by tackling countless quests in your mission to foil the evil machinations of the Red Queen. Don’t be surprised by the addition of mini-games and an energy system; this is, after all, at its core a free-to-play game brimming with ads and a desire to get you to spend real money to speed up timers and accrue special currencies. No thanks.

For a while there, I was playing something called Twilight Town and Lost Lands: A Hidden Object Adventure. Alice in the Mirrors of Albion, even though it is made by a different developer, follows almost exactly the same format of those two, plus countless others out there. I’m talking about its use of energy, its focus on completing collections, the overworld map littered with icons and things to confuse yourself on, and the different ways it makes you find items in a scene, be it either from a list or pictures of silhouettes. I wonder if all these developers got together in a room and decided this was the new modus operandi for all things related to hidden objects. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t; for instance, in Twilight Town, I could literally do three actions before running out of energy, but Alice in the Mirrors of Albion has been more kind than that.

So, yeah, it’s fine. I do find it humorous that the story kicks off immediately with Alice disappearing and then things drastically slow down because you have to find keys for so-and-so or a special hat for the Mad Hatter…because, well, the developers needed to pad the game out from the get-go. I’m slightly interested in the story, and the writing isn’t honestly terrible, but many of the missions do feel like filler, and this detective work is only inching its way forward at a snail’s pace while a young woman’s life hangs in the balance. Want to save her right away? Sorry, you’ll need to up your mastery in this one location while also waiting for your energy meter to refill. Look, I’m not insane, I know what this game is and am not expecting Hemingway, but it should be either all in on the story or just scrap it entirely and don’t hide the fact that you are meant to play these levels over and over again.

There’s a character in Alice in the Mirrors of Albion that really gets under my skin. His name is Cheshire, Jr., he’s a cat, but also a part of the police-force. Look, I’m not here to ask too many questions. Anyways, the voicework done for Cheshire, Jr. is some of the most atrocious I’ve ever heard, and it really does make nails on a chalkboard sound like a thousand angels singing. You’d think, with him being a cat, that he’d meow like a cat, but no…instead, he says the word “meow” and draws it out with some extra syllables, because it’s not enough to just make your ears bleed once. If he continues to make his presence known, I may not be sticking around too long for this one.

Wish me luck on continuously finding that fire extinguisher, as they actually do a good job of hiding it in the police office scene. However, if we don’t get closer to learning what happened to Alice, I’ll be saying goodbye quickly to Alice in the Mirrors of Albion.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #10 – Dear Cousin

Find eggs for below
Ten total, some hidden high
I fell through the world

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Merchant’s a classic RPG experience from the perspective of a shopkeeper

I’ve been getting a bit looser when it comes to installing or uninstalling games on my Android-based cell phone. By that I mean not everything is going to get a reaction out of me, such as a meaty blog post on Grinding Down, negative or positive. Some games I continue to log in to daily and tap on, and some I give a try for a wee bit, but find they don’t really hook me, which is a shame for things like Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Dragalia Lost, and, most recently, The Sims Mobile. However, one of the newer ones I’ve downloaded in preparation to stave off boredom during chemotherapy treatments–well, new to me–is called Merchant, and I’m digging it a whole bunch, pixels and all.

Well, the whole point to Merchant from Retora Games is to become the greatest merchant the world has ever known. You’ll end up hiring heroes, crafting items like weapons and armor, and defeating various D&D-inspired monsters, save for bushes that don’t fight back, in order to improve your heroes and grow your economy. However, as a burgeoning shop-owner, you’ll need to manage your resources properly and make tactical decisions to rise to the top. This means you can only craft so many things before running out of inventory space or gold and must begin selling your wares to traveling wanna-be heroes. It’s a solid mix of there always being something to do and something to plan for down the road.

I remember being fascinated with the idea of Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale when it came out way back in late 2007 despite still never having played it. In that one, you are Recette, a shop-owner, and have to decide how you’ll get your stock–either through playing the markets in town or going out into the wild with an adventuring friend and thrashing beasts until they give up the goodies. You also had to figure out how much to sell things for, what the shop should look like, and how to best go about getting the money needed to pay off the loan. Merchant is kind of like this, except you are always behind the counter, making things happen from the safety of your store-front.

Merchant is pretty chill, as will as plain ol’ pretty. I mean, I like pixel art, and this is some good stuff. You can unlock different skins for your shop and shop-keeper, but the game never pushes micro-transactions; instead, it looks like it would rather prefer you buy DLC and get more for the game in one big gulp. The music is actually nice, but I often play games on my phone with sounds off, so I don’t hear too much of it.

The game is also available for free on Steam, but I think having in on your phone to check in on now and again is more than perfect. Like, I’ve been doing this the entire time I’ve been writing this post–send a hero out to fight a monster, type some words, collect rewards, rinse and repeat. Sure, it’s another game of timers, but this one feels much more rewarding than many other idle games out there. I say, give it a shot; if not, you can always close up shop and spend your nights getting drunk in the local tavern, dreaming of a different life.

Grinding Down’s Top 10 Games of 2018

2018 has certainly been an interesting year, and not just in terms of videogames. I definitely did not complete as many as I have in the past, eventually giving up entirely on my idea to do little drawings to go along with my haiku reviews. For 2019, I’m just sticking with the much-beloved haiku format from the past as I have other art projects to focus on. Still, I played a good amount of games, though many of the games I played don’t really have an ending to find, and that’s okay. Not everything in life needs to see closure.

Some games that almost made my list are as follows: Detective Pikachu, LEGO Incredibles, House Flip with Chip and Jo, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. All four I’ve started and are in various stages of completion, but that’s not why they aren’t included below. I’ll provide a few more details.

Detective Pikachu is super cute, but a little slow-going, especially when you can clearly see the answer to a puzzle miles ahead of hitting it but are forced to go through all the investigative steps beforehand; that said, I’m absolutely stoked to see the movie next year. LEGO Incredibles is, well, not to be punitive, but another LEGO game, with all the pros and cons that come with such a statement. House Flip with Chip and Jo is one of the better free-to-play games on a cell phone, but it loses points for breaking for two weeks after some big update. Lastly, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on the Nintendo 3DS is beyond adorable, but I haven’t done too many levels yet, but I love how much replay-ability the levels have, and my need to complete all challenges in each one before moving on is uber strong.

Onwards we march, to my top 10 games of 2018…

10. Harvest Seasons

Look, this game is an idle clicker, so there’s no real story here or magically nifty game mechanics, but I constantly find myself drawn to these experiences because…well, there’s always something to do in them. From upgrading to planning ahead to simply clicking away without caution. Everything you do generally leads to progress, even restarting from scratch. Previously, I fell hard for things like Time Clickers and AdVenture Capitalist, and Harvest Seasons is another good one to have open on my laptop while I’m drawing my comic about colon cancer next to it. I wrote about it over in this post if you want more details on how it works; also, it’s free, and you’ll find a few more freebies in this list because not every free to play game is completely terrible.

9. All Our Asias

In 2018, I played two games from Analgesic Productions, after really enjoying Even the Ocean a couple years ago–specifically All Our Asias and Anodyne. One I was mesmerized by, and the other was fun and challenging if somewhat unclear. In All Our Asias, you are tasked to explore someone’s mind and discover their secrets in a surreal, PlayStation 1-like world. The story covers heady topics like father-son relationships, Asian-America, and race. I can’t say I related to everything going on here, but it was nonetheless fascinating to explore and see unfold. A lot of games come out now that try to callback to the PS1 or SNES/NES days, but none have been as successful at capturing the tone and feel of a time long gone as All Our Asias. It’s spooky and haunting in a way that a game drenched in fog, like the original Silent Hill, can only be. It’s not a horror game, but it leaves a mark in your memory. Once again, this is a freebie on Steam, so I highly recommend you give it a go.

8. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle

Puzzle games are probably the genre that most get under my skin, often making me feel small and stupid. I’d like to think I’m neither, but sometimes my brain just breaks. For example, I only got so far in The Witness because it became too much to grok and hold all those different rule sets inside my head as I moved from one area to the next. However, I can’t stay away from them. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle, the third free-to-play game on my top 10 list so far, didn’t frustrate me too much, most likely because it contains an in-game walkthrough for any puzzle you get stuck on. You play as Jason Voorhees as he goes on his teenager-killing rampage, but you can only move him in so many directions based on the layout of the map. It’s both cartoonish and ultra-gorey, and you are always leveling up, getting new costumes and weapons to use against these dumb-as-bricks kids. For a game all about murder, it’s a lot of fun.

7. Legendary Gary

I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Legendary Gary straight from the developer. I’d been interested in the game from the very start of the year, loving the artwork and unique take on turn-based combat. It didn’t hit every note for me, in the end, but I greatly enjoyed Gary’s fantasy and real-life equivalent adventures, and the soundtrack is simply hypnotic. The fighting is the main meat of the game, but I felt there wasn’t enough of it to really get a grip on how it worked. That said, there was also no grinding needed to reach the end, which I will always appreciate. It’s a rather short, special RPG, with some heavy decisions to make, and I’d love to see a sequel explore more of the fighting and in-game fantasy world.

6. Subnautica

Look, I’ve put a decent amount of hours into Subnautica and still really haven’t left the first main area of the game. It feels a lot like my first go at Dragon Age: Inquisition, wherein it was just hard to leave the starting area of the game because there was so much to see and do. Plus, I’m a teeny tiny bit scared of what else is out there; oceans are deeply unexplored, and if Planet Earth has taught me anything it is that the strangest critters and fish live in the darkest depths. I like that there’s not a ton of hand-holding here, and you have to scavenge what you can to build better gear and upgrades, all of which do push you to explore further and further away from the safety of your crashed pod. I’m considering getting the game on console soon as I’d rather play it there then on my laptop PC which can only just barely run this watery beast.

5. State of decay 2

At some point, I’ll probably just start my camp over in State of Decay 2. I’ve learned more as I played about what should take priority and how to keep everyone happy, but found myself constantly struggling to juggle all the needs and wants and necessities. When I last played the campaign mode, my group of survivors was just barely teetering on the edge of sanity, and I felt like I had explored all the local areas to completion, but didn’t feel confident traveling too far away. That said, the online horde-based mode called Daybreak is a ton of fun, and it also will eventually help with the main campaign by bringing over guns and tech earned by playing multiplayer. It’s not a happy game, but it does a great job of making you understand what it ultimately might take to live through a zombie apocalypse with a bunch of strangers on your side. Maybe.

4. Starlink: Battle of Atlas

I bought the digital version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and that was a good decision. I just don’t have room for more tiny toys, even if they finally do something other than take up space, nor do I think it would be fun to constantly swap out weapons on the fly when I can just pause the game and do it much quicker with a few button clicks. Either way, I still haven’t finished the main campaign as I’m enjoying completing a planet’s long checklist of things to do before moving on to the next world. The flying around and shooting at robots feels great, and there’s plenty to upgrade, from your ship to weapons to mods to your pilot’s super ability. Progress is always being made, and the story and characters are a lot of fun. I’m excited to see where everything is going, and there are a bunch more planets yet to explore to my heart’s content.

3. Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

I only recently got into the original Spyro the Dragon games after purchasing digital copies on my PlayStation 3 a couple years ago. It took me a bit to get through the first and second game, and by the time I was working on the third game…a full remake of all three titles was announced. So I stopped and waited patiently, and my patience was greatly rewarded. Sure, not all is perfect, like some difficulty in the boss fights, every single flying-only level, and the fact that we are missing subtitles in the year twenty-eighteen, but the game is still a joy to play. Collecting gems, eggs, orbs, and freeing dragons is still beyond satisfying, and seeing some hidden off to the side or up on a cliff and figuring out how to get there is pure joy. I’ve already re-beat the first two games, even getting 120% in the original Spyro the Dragon for the very first time, and I’m working hard to see the trilogy’s conclusion.

2. Mark of the Ninja: Remastered

I loved the original Mark of the Ninja, and I loved the remastered version I got for free for purchasing the original game years ago. It’s pretty much the same game, with some cleaned up art/cutscenes and a piece of DLC I never got to play, so for me, it was great going back into this world of stealth and stabbing and relearning all the tools and tricks to make it out alive. Melanie and I especially enjoyed going for all the seals that required a lot of points, figuring out how to milk the most out of a kill by hiding the bodies or throwing them into a group of unsuspecting guards. It became a game within a game, and I popped all the Achievements except for the one that wants you to play it all over again via New Game+. Maybe one day down the road I’ll take that challenge on, but for now…I’m good. I’m a good, little ninja-man.

1. Fortnite Battle Royale

Shortly before being admitted to the hospital in July and discovering I had cancer, I bought the Battle Pass for Fortnite Battle Royale. I figured, at that point, I had played enough of its truly free mode to warrant such a decision. Also, you can totally earn enough V-bucks playing the game to purchase the next season’s Battle Pass, so long as you don’t blow it all on costumes, dances, or strange emotes.

The weekly challenges, along with the daily missions, really made playing the game more fun, as I was terrible–and probably still am–at building and shooting. However, I can totally open seven ammo crates in a single match or dance in specific locations like it is nobody’s business, and even my fiance Melanie got into the action. By action, I mean doing a lot of the non-combat missions, but it became something we contiguously worked on together, and was a joy to come home from chemotherapy with new tasks to polish off, all while earning new outfits and such.

One thing that I have grown to appreciate in Fortnite Battle Royale over PUBG is how often it takes risks, tries out new modes or weapons, and generally isn’t afraid to mix things up. It keeps the game feeling fresh. I don’t love every mode, but it is comforting to know that nothing lasts forever. Still, please, Epic, bring back the 50 versus 50 mode. I need it like woah.

Return home to familial strangeness with Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1

I am one of those people that grew up in the ’90s reading those various More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books by Alvin Schwartz, and, yes, I was extremely disappointed when they got reissued with all new art, illustrations that did not immediately make your blood run cold and stay with you for years on end. One of my favorite short stories from these horror collections–favorite is actually a weird choice here, but I think you get what I mean–was “Harold,” which is mostly about two farmers mistreating their scarecrow and then getting their just desserts. Both the story and Stephen Gammell’s intro art for it have never left me, and I mention all this only because Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 features a scarecrow up to no good. Alas, it’s not as terrifying.

Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 is a horror-mystery, point-and-click adventure game where you must find the truth about your mother’s death. It’s free on Steam…well, this first chapter is, and it should only take you about a half hour to get through it. The police came to the conclusion that Helen Lancaster’s suicide, where she gutted herself with a kitchen knife, was due to the grief of losing her husband. However, her son, Clint Lancaster, doesn’t believe a woman as deeply religious as her mother would do such a thing and plans to investigate. As you further explore your childhood farmhouse, you’ll discover that nothing is as it seems; in fact, things are getting stranger by the minute.

Gameplay is fairly simple. You can use a mouse to click everything or use a controller…though I stuck with the keyboard mostly. Like, the up, down, left, right arrows and the enter key; I’m a relic. Item use and item combination is all automatic, which some people may like, but it results in a lot less thinking when it comes to solving puzzles. Oh, this cabinet door is stuck? I’ll just immediately use this cane from my dead grandfather to prop it open. No, no, don’t worry, I got this for you. I really didn’t want you to have to try out all the other items on it first. Again, it’s fine, if a little dumbed down. Also, a couple of items are tricky to spot, so there is a small amount of pixel hunting to deal with. Other than that, you are mostly exploring different rooms in the farmhouse and watching them change as you go, with your true goal being getting into the cellar.

Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike a many RPGMaker-made games. They all contain a similar look and menu UI, and, at first, I thought it was really neat and awesome, but I’ve grown tired of seeing the same pixel art and character portraits and start screens. It seems like the “new releases” tab on Steam, on any given day, contains at least one or two creations like this. I don’t know if Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 was made with RPGMaker, but it feels like it; that said, it has a better design to it, and I do like the small circle of light around Clint, which does obfuscate parts of the room you are exploring, leaving room for scares and surprises. The writing, while a little rote in places, does a good job of leading you along, revealing enough dribs and drabs about Clint’s parents for you to fill in the rest with your imagination.

According to the Steam page description, there are three endings to discover. I’m not sure if that is meant for Chapter 1 only or the series as a whole. Not exactly sure how different of an ending I could have conceived as I felt like I found every item and solved all the puzzles, but maybe there was something I missed. Oh well. Honestly, I would have preferred not to see the [redacted] at the end, but that’s me, an animal lover. Looks like Chapter 2 is available now, with more chapters to go down the road, but this didn’t draw me in enough to have me foaming at the mouth for more. I’ll leave Azurael’s Circle forever closed.