Tag Archives: Games with Gold

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Monster Jam: Battlegrounds

Monster Jam: Battlegrounds is a bad game. I thought I’d just put that up front here in this new feature for Grinding Down where I finally start taking a look at the many, many PlayStation Plus titles I have installed on my PlayStation 3. Why? Well, the service is not what it once was in terms of the games you get (at least for the console I’m still on), and I’m looking to ultimately cancel it down the road. Unlike Microsoft’s Games with Gold program, you don’t get to keep the titles from Sony, so I should try some of them out before I cut ties and these disappear for good.

Let’s get to it. Monster Jam: Battlegrounds is Trials, but instead of motorbikes you use monster trucks to get the job done. The job is usually going from the left side of the screen to the right side. Actually, that comparison is completely unfair to the Trials franchise, which is noteworthy for its physic-based controls and steep challenge, but high level of polish. Also, completing a tough jump in Trials Evolution felt do-able and was really rewarding; here, you are fighting at every twist and turn to keep these monster trucks upright, almost as if they are hollow inside. Ugh.

There are three modes: Skill Driving, Stadium Events, and Stunt. Each is less exciting than the previous one. Skill Driving has you trying to reach certain areas by maintaining momentum and not toppling over. Stadium is a ridiculous scenario where you drive in a circle two or three times and beat an opponent doing the same thing, and to call this a “race” is an insult to the very definition of the word. Stunt wants you to use your boost power effectively and see how far you can make a monster truck fly through the air. These are all straightforward and over quickly, which makes the long load times to get to them and unresponsive controls all the more frustrating.

So, in the end, not a keeper. The physics are appalling, the challenge and graphic designs are lackluster, the audio is a mess, cutting in and out and culminating into one large crunch of static, crowd cheers, and cheesy rock music, and it takes forever to play, which, for a game I don’t want to play all that much, makes the decision to uninstall pretty easy. Didn’t even need to boost.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

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2017 Game Review Haiku, #112 – Layers of Fear

A disturbed painter
Striving for his masterpiece
Will do anything

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Oxenfree’s supernatural coming-of-age story nails teen talk

Oxenfree from Night School Studios got the distinct honor of ranking number four on my Top 10 Videogames I Didn’t Get to Play in 2016 list. I had originally tried buying the game during the Christmas holiday sale, but this was back when my Xbox One decided to stop working when it came to accessing the store and other menu options, and so I moved on. Then, thanks to the Humble Day of the Devs 2016 bundle, I got a copy on Steam for a few bucks, but just never got around to installing and/or launching it. Thankfully, my waiting and reluctance-ness paid off, as Oxenfree is a Games with Gold freebie for this month, which means I got to play it comfortably from the couch with a controller in my hand. Woo, go me, go waiting.

What is Oxenfree? Y’know, other than a word most famously known for its use as a catchphrase in hide and go seek. Well, it’s a supernatural thriller starring a group of teenage friends who accidentally open up a ghostly rift on Edwards Island. You play as blue-haired Alex, and you’ve just brought your new stepbrother Jonas to this overnight island party that quickly goes horribly wrong. Also there is Clarissa, who used to date Alex’s deceased older brother, Ren, a light-hearted stoner, and Nona, a shy being that may or may not have feelings for a certain pot brownie-loving, easily excitable goofball. It’s kind of a point-and-click adventure, but with little pointing and clicking and more wandering around the island, chatting with your friends, and solving radio-based puzzles to battle ghosts and close time loops. Also, gorgeous background art.

Ultimately, Oxenfree is a game primarily about conversation. Thankfully, there’s a simple and extremely effective speech-bubble interface for all of these interactions, with each dialogue choice tied to a respective button on the Xbox One controller: X, Y, or B. This allows you to still walk around a scene and interact with items or climb platforms using A while people speak around you. You can also, much like in every Telltale Games title these days, stay completely silent and not pick a response, and there’s even an Achievement for doing this all the way to the credits, tough as that might be.

Here’s what makes the talking in Oxenfree interesting–characters are constantly chatting, and it is up to you to have Alex respond at the sort of tempo that would be home in a true-to-life conversation. This means you can interrupt someone or wait until they are done to say your piece, and each action feels just as natural as the other. There’s no pausing and waiting, you need to react quickly and naturally, and if you don’t, the conversation moves on without you. This realism can lead to frustrating moments where you simply don’t have time to respond accordingly or you can accidentally cut off someone mid-sentence and never know what they were planning to say in the end. Thankfully, the writing and voiceover work is strong, full of charismatic and everyday voices from industry staples like Erin Yvette as Alex, Gavin Hammon as Jonas, and Britanni Johnson as Nona. These definitely feel like teens talking like teens.

Oxenfree is short and punchy, but I expected that. A couple hours at most, but I played it in two separate sessions. It doesn’t waste time, which is a funny statement when you understand that several of its puzzle sequences are about being stuck in a Groundhog Day loop. These scenarios are easily solved through repeating actions, and the only real puzzles involve Alex and her portable radio, which can be tuned to specific stations. Find the right one, lock in on it, and open up a channel to communicate with the angry, vindictive ghosts of Edwards Island. The “glitchy” effects and how you continue to interact with a scene going topsy-turvy and quickly changing from one second to the next are unreal and captivating. I also found a lot of the ghosts, especially when taking over one of Alex’s friends’ bodies, to be extremely unnerving though I’d never call this a horror game.

Endings are where it matters most in Oxenfree, and I don’t know how many there ultimately all and refuse to look it up, but there’s definitely more than one. I am happy with the one I got. Based on your conversations with friends and actions taken, you can end up with some hating you or falling in love with others by the time credits roll. My choices resulted in a mixed bag of outcomes. Often with games like this, I usually stick to one single playthrough and cement it in my memory as the only way that story could have unfolded because, to me, that’s how it all went down. Though I am very much interested in a second go-around where Alex is mute and doesn’t react at all to the terrifying things happening around her.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #92 – Slime Rancher

A plorts adventure
Full of slimes, discovery
Choose between two doors

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Harvesting gelatinous poop in Slime Rancher is pretty gooreat

I’ve had my eye on Slime Rancher for some slime now. Er, I mean time. Honestly, I will try my hardest to keep the number of puns in this post to a minimum, but there’s no guarantee. I just can’t help myself. Right, I first saw it being played on one of Giant Bomb‘s Unprofessional Fridays many moons ago and thought it looked ultra cute and fun, but knowing that it was in Early Access at the time kept me from actually digging into it. With so many games in my collection that are finished and still unplayed, I prefer to wait for the completed project–well, as completed as anything can be in this digital age of ours with patches and updates and game-changing DLC–before consuming.

Okay, let’s get to it because the sun is rising, the roostros are making noise, and those rock slimes won’t feed themselves. In Slime Rancher, you play as Beatrix LeBeau who has moved a thousand light years away from Earth to the “Far, Far Ranch” to make herself rich by farming…slimes. Her main tool in this endeavor is the vacpack, a vacuum-like/jetpack device that can be used to suck up slimes/other items and eject them. On your farm, you can build pens and corrals to hold slimes and other animals, feeding them their favorite food and collecting valuable plorts from their bodies, which you then sell for a profit, so long as the market prices board shows them up for the day. Also, I think the developer recently said they aren’t poop, but they are totally slime poops.

So, here’s the cycle: you head out into the wild, collect some slimes you want to keep at home, and return to build a housing pen for them. Then you must feed them what they like, whether it be a vegetable, fruit, or meat, taking care to not mix too many different slimes together because you could create a tar slime, which has the ability to demolish your ranch swiftly and unapologetically. Collect the plorts, sell the plorts, buy upgrades to your vacpack or access to new areas, and the cycle repeats anew until you hit a wall, which is usually in the form of lack of money or specific plorts or even where to go next (hint: keys unlock doors). You can totally stay close to your farm and earn decent money by rinsing and repeating certain actions, but the pull to go deeper into the unknown is ultra strong.

Exploration is a key element to Slime Rancher‘s loop, with myself discovering just a wee bit more each time I play. Early on, you’ll come across things you can’t solve, such as numerous treasure pods, and other things that are solvable, such as gigantic slimes that won’t budge, but the solution is left to you to figure out. Which is kind of nice, in this day and age of holding hands. The Slimepedia, the in-game guide full of details about slimes, environments, and other issues, is essential for learning how to get the most out of your day and creatures. Still, navigating to and fro is somewhat tedious, though one will get access to teleporters much later in the game, and your limited amount of inventory space leads to tough calls, knowing you can’t take everything back with you. You also have the option to upgrade your health and how much your jetpack can let you soar, which will open up more previously unreachable areas.

Slime Rancher is a peaceful, calming experience at times, but one without clear direction. I know I previously praised that the game doesn’t hold your hand, but that’s different then general steering. Story bits are sprinkled throughout via e-mails and digital notes scattered out in the wild, but they are not very interesting or give you any reason to care about Beatrix, these strange folk sending her messages, or whoever the heck H is supposed to be. And that’s a shame, especially when it comes to Beatrix, because she turns out to be just a vessel for you to move around inside the game and suck up gooey monsters with and not an interesting character whatsoever, which is a big ol’ bummer, as I really dig her hair color and style. Also, when I first started playing, there was no map, which made exploration far away from your home base somewhat tough, but that has since been added in via a free update, with more changes and features still to come.

At this point, I’ve done a number of milestone thingies, but still don’t feel close at all to calling Slime Rancher complete. For instance, I’ve unlocked the science laboratory area, which really expands your options when it comes to choosing where you put slime plorts and crafting materials and how you spend your resources. Basically, you can purchase item blueprints for machinery or cosmetic dressings for your farm, and then collect the required materials needed for each item to construct it. This is also where you gain access to teleporters. So, the decisions now come down to whether I want money or fun gizmos that can get me rarer ingredients, which is always a tough call. Personally, I just want to fill my farm with tabby slimes and have them bounce around and bomp me on nose repeatedly. I’ve also opened some cryptically locked doors…but to what end, I know not.

I’d write more, but all of my quantum slimes just teleported out of their corral and are quickly making their way to my massive collection of stony hens, eyes wide and hungry. Gotta go!

2017 Game Review Haiku, #76 – Runbow

Colors disguise ground
Find your path, dash, double jump
If not, try again

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #65 – LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga

Growing up Jedi
You know what to do–get studs
Shun flying levels

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.