Tag Archives: Gaming with Gold

2018 Game Review Haiku, #23 – SUPERHOT

SUPER HOT, SUPER
HOT, SUPER HOT, SUPER HOT
SUPER HOT, SUPER

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

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2018 Game Review Haiku, #21 – Brave

This princess thirsts for
Generic monster fodder
Her bow screams–Mor’du!

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

Brave’s videogame transformation is not surprisingly rote

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being slightly baffled as to why Brave, that character action romp from 2012 developed by Behaviour Interactive and published by Disney Interactive Studios, not to be mixed up with another similar-sounding series, was being offered as a Games for Gold freebie this month for those on Xbox One and Xbox 360, but then I realized it is probably the closest thing Microsoft has that’s Irish-like in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I mean, let’s look at the facts–Scotland is totally near Ireland, and Kelly Macdonald’s deeply relaxing and soothing accent might as well be coming out of a banshee’s mouth. I guess those are all the facts.

Actually, no, another fact–I love Brave. I’m specifically talking about the animated movie here, the one where Princess Mérida, determined to make her own path in life, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, she must rely on her bravery and ultra-good archery skills to undo a beastly curse and bring about peace to both her kingdom and family. That said, I do not love the videogame version of Brave, though I have just about squeezed every bit of entertainment from it by the time this post goes public. By that, I mean I popped all but one Achievement, the one for beating the game on its hardest difficulty setting.

This tie-in take on Brave doesn’t follow the film’s events scene by scene. Instead, it’s kind of a side happening, with Mérida chasing after her mother, now in bear form (uh, spoilers?), and discovering that a magical blight has befallen the land. To stop it, she’ll need to defeat Mor’du, along with a number of generically traditional evil creatures. There’s under ten levels to get through, and you’ll do them linearly, and they are all linear themselves, following almost the same exact progression, but more on that in a bit. The story never really becomes its own thing and never rises above an excuse to have a bunch of monsters to destroy; at least the hand-drawn cutscenes are more interesting to watch than the ones using in-game graphics, which, and this is not uncommon for this generation, are extremely ugly and lacking life, character. I mean, the inside of any castle section might as well be from the chopping floor for Demon Souls or Oblivion.

Brave‘s gameplay is far from courageous or anything unique. There’s running around, jumping on platforms, loosing arrows, and hitting plants and enemies with your sword. Oh, and I can’t forget the section where you play as her bear-mother Elinor, or the parts where you control her bear-brothers to solve beyond straightforward puzzles involving levers and switches. Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this kind of played like a twin-stick shooter. Using the right stick, you can loose an arrow in mostly any direction and change the element it is based on–earth, fire, wind, or ice–which is necessary for affecting the environment, as well as dealing more damage based on an enemy’s weakness. Fire boars hate ice, for instance. That said, the arrows sometimes don’t go where you want them to, and it reminded me a lot of trying to hit enemies in the background in Shadow Complex.

Look, this is obviously a family-friendly title, and thus, the action is okay, never trying too hard to be more than a standard affair. On the default difficulty, it never, ever even came close to challenging. My go-to plan for dealing with enemies was to fire at them from a distance and then, if they got close, double-jump and stab downward into the ground with Mérida’s sword for a damaging slam move. The only time it ever got tricky was when there were multiple enemies on screen with different weaknesses, requiring you to either switch your element out on the fly or take on a single set of enemies out first. The final boss fight–or rather final boss fights–have a bunch of these, but by that point in the game, Mérida is full of upgrades and more than capable of taking a few hits.

Speaking of that, the upgrades are what one expects in these types of games–more health, deal more damage, element effects last longer, potions restore more life, etc. They each require a specific amount of gold, which you earn from defeating monsters and cutting up flora. One playthrough alone of the game will probably only net you enough gold coins to buy maybe one-third of all the upgrades. So choose wisely or, if you are like me and want every Achievement, be prepared to grind out some money, and this includes purchasing the co-op specific upgrades. The ones you definitely want early on are increasing your power move meter more quickly, either from dealing damage or receiving it, the range at which you suck up gold coins, and the minion-summoning power for the earth element.

I’ve not played many of these tie-in games to Pixar/Disney properties I love because, well, they are often not what I want. Here’s a link to my thoughts on that The Incredibles game, which still hurts to think about today. I can’t say I was surprised by how Brave turned out, and I’m only holding out hope now on the rumor of a LEGO-based game for the upcoming The Incredibles II. That said, I’m sure if I ever get a copy of the videogame takes on WALL-E, Up, or Toy Story 3, I’ll foolishly give them a honest chance, forgetting all the missteps I’ve seen along the way up to this point.

Well, as they famously say in Scotland, lang may yer lum reek, Brave. I never want to play you again.

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.

LEGO Star Wars is from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

I’ve not played every single LEGO video game out there, but I’ve gone through a good amount, most of which were in order of release. For me, it began with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game back on the PlayStation 2, but it’s probably more accurate to say that the starting point for the evolution of these LEGO video games from TT Games began with LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues. That’s where you began to see things like an enlarged hub world to explore and a split-screen camera option for when playing with a co-op partner, both of which have become mainstays for the series. Going back to play LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga recently has shown me just how far the series has come, for better or…no, just better. It’s only gotten better.

That’s not to say LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a bad game or un-fun. Mel and I have been having a good time completing levels, collecting studs, unlocking red bricks, buying multipliers, and revisiting areas for hidden collectibles. We chip away at the larger beast. The LEGO grind is here, but it’s enjoyable because, compared to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, not every level takes upwards of an hour to complete. Not every door requires you to solve a minigame to open it. Not every puzzle is dastardly obtuse. I guess there’s some worse in the newer entries after all.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is basically a compilation of LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game and its sequel LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, that way you can play through them all together using one single product. Which is good for us because I only ever played through the former of those two, and Mel played the latter with her brother many moons ago. So we both got to experience some new areas together. Also, the game incorporates two previously deleted levels–“Anakin’s Flight” and “Bounty Hunter Pursuit”–though I’m only finding out about this now. Many other levels were redesigned and updated so that both games worked with each other and felt unified. Either way, the games follow the movies, which means you’ll get to see the exciting Trade Federation negotiations go down, young Anakin grow up, watch Luke learn about his father and The Force, and see Ewoks take down the Empire with sticks and stones. Since this is an older entry in the series, the cutscenes are wordless reproductions, but still silly when they want to be.

Here’s something I didn’t expect to ever say: Jar Jar Binks is essential. Early on, his ability to both double jump and jump high is pivotal for getting some hidden minikits, red bricks, or blue studs, which are the ones worth the most money. We brought him into every level we could during Free Play. I do miss the camera that would split in half and allow both players to do their own desires; here, you are stuck to each other, and often it made things easier for one player to simply drop out then for both to jump across sinking platforms floating in red-hot lava. Also, the flying levels are a struggle, especially when you need to get from point A to point B with missiles or a bomb being dragged behind you, and the whole world is out to make you explode. Later, we managed to make a door glitch out and not open despite doing everything right because glitches need stitches. Or something like that. Sorry, I didn’t know how to end that sentence.

We’re currently around the 65% completion mark, with several more levels to fully finish. Then there are special levels to do after you complete everything else, as well as challenges, arcade mode, playing online, gold bricks to buy, characters and vehicles to unlock, special cross-over Achievements to pop, and so on. Only after all that, after we see that 100.0% high in the sky, can we happily put LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga to bed. Still, this has been good co-op fun, which is not bad in July 2017 for the 23rd greatest video game of all time, according to the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition in 2009.

Gears of War 2 continues its virile fight against the Locust horde

gd impressions on gow2 xbox 360

A part of me somehow knew that if I waited long enough I could get all of the Gears of War games for free thanks to Xbox’s Gaming with Gold program. Well, not exactly free, as I am paying money to be a Gold member, but free from the outside looking in. It started out with the first Gears of War, which I played through and found myself dumbfounded over how this became a popular, blockbuster series, even if I was having fun with the active reload mechanic. I find it perfunctory and fine, but nothing amazing, and you can feel free to call me names in the comments (if I approve your abhorrent name-calling comment for all to see, that is). Then Microsoft gave out Gears of War 3 and Gears of War: Judgment, but I was holding my breath for the second entry in the series so I could at least play them in some sort of sensible order. Lo and behold, it was a freebie for February 2016, completing the path forward.

Gears of War 2 takes place shortly after the end of the first game. The Coalition of Ordered Governments continues its fight against the Locust horde, who are attempting to sink all of the cities on the planet Sera. Sergeant Marcus Fenix leads Delta Squad down into the murky depths of the planet to try to stop the Locust from destroying Jacinto, one of the last remaining safe havens for humans. I feel like, other than the part about sinking planets, you could use this same description to summarize the first game, too. Either way, there are a couple of small side stories to explore, such as what happened to Dom’s wife Maria and a civil war brewing between the Locust and the Lambent.

Gameplay remains largely unchanged from the first Gears of War, though you can now pick up fallen enemies and use them as cover against incoming bullets. These are lovingly referred to as meatshields, which I approve of greatly. Regardless, you’ll push forward in linear levels, hiding behind cover and popping out of it to shoot the bad dudes. You’ll also have an AI-controlled partner with you for most of the missions, and I assume this character can also be controlled during the co-op campaign. I found Dom, at least on the “normal” difficulty, to be mostly a waste of space, especially during that boss fight against the Leviathan. Truth be told, and maybe this has to do with my recent practice with the Gears of War 4 Beta, I did pretty good in the campaign, only seeing red a handful of times, and those really only occurred during the two separate fights against Skorge, as I wasn’t sure exactly of what to do. Okay, okay…maybe an unseen Ticker got me now and then as well.

Alas, I’m still not enthralled with the running and gunning of the Gears of War series. I liked finding the collectibles in the levels, which should not surprise anyone following Grinding Down, as well as when you got to ride a Brumak near the end and just massacred everything in front of you. There’s also one level inside a giant monster where the focus is not on pelting Locust with bullets but rather surviving all the weird internal organs.  Those stand out as the highlights of the campaign for me.

Since beating Gears of War 2, I’ve been dabbling in its multiplayer modes. For various reasons. One is to clean up some Achievements I’m close to getting, like performing all the different execution methods or using proximity mines to kill ten enemies. Two…is that I fully expect to never return to Gears of War 2 once I start playing the third one, which I’m in no rush to load up, and so I want to make sure I get everything out of this game that I can. Or rather, that I want. I managed to get into one online multiplayer game with real-life people and had my butt handed to me swiftly, and so now I’m sticking to local matches against bots, as well as the Horde mode (solo and on “casual” difficulty). I also plan to pop back into the campaign and grab the remainder of the collectibles, considering I already got half of them my first time through this brown, brown world.

I’m definitely not immediately launching into Gears of War 3, even with the way this campaign ended on a cliffhanger. I’m okay waiting a bit. There’s plenty of other games currently in circulation too, such as Sunset Overdrive, I Am Alive, and Saints Row IV. In the meantime, if you are in the mood to play some Gears of War 2 and want to help me progress through Horde mode (I crashed into a wall around wave 6), hit me up on Xbox One.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War can bloom even on a battlefield

valiant hearts gd early impressions

I don’t know much about war, but I suspect I’m more knowledgeable when it comes to details related to World War II than World War I. Mind you, this is not me saying I’m knowledgeable at all. Just more familiar with how things went down from 1939 to 1945. Blame it heavier on popular entertainment media than my limited history school lessons, as I probably absorbed more from things like Band of Brothers and The Saboteur than anything else. As for World War I…well, I know it was one of the deadliest conflicts, with some absolutely terrifying weapons of war used. Like severe mustard gas.

So, naturally, there’s not a plethora of games based on this happy-go-lucky time period, though I did recently puzzle my way through Covert Front‘s alternative take on World War I. Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War is also a puzzle adventure game, released in summer 2014 and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, and walks the path of being both fun to play and educational. Evidently, the game was inspired by actual letters written during World War I and focuses on four different characters: the Frenchman Emile, his German son-in-law Karl, American soldier Freddie, and Belgian nurse Anna. It’s a heart-twisting story of love and survival, sacrifice and friendship. There’s also a dog you can continuously pet.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is divided up into four chapters, and each chapter is split into several sections. Most of these sections you to clear an objective in order to progress through the story, like solving environmental puzzles or acquiring specific items related to the situation. Other sections mix the action up, such as surviving heavy gunfire, stealthing past enemies undetected, and, my personal favorite, rhythmic car chase scenarios set to classic songs where you have to avoid obstacles in the road. Also, each of the four characters is able to interact with the world based on who they are, such as Emile shoveling through soft ground, Freddie cutting barbed wires with his shears, and Anna treating patients’ injuries through a mini QTE. When available, the characters can order the dog to carry objects and push levers.

Despite the tone and horrific historical details, I’m really enjoying my time so far in Valiant Hearts: The Great War. It’s got a fantastic, cartoonish art style, and the puzzles have not gotten too complicated to the point where I’d want to throw the controller away. Even if they do, there’s an in-game, timer-based hint system, if you need an extra clue on what to do with the dog or how to sneak by that watchful sniper in the tower. Toss in some relaxing piano tunes for when you are reading up on days past, as well as a soothing narrator, and this is a strangely tranquil gaming experience amidst all the explosions and mortar shells. I’m somewhere in the middle of chapter two currently, so I don’t expect this to last that much longer, but that’s okay. It’s bite-size, but so far quite filling.

Lastly, I keep thinking from its title that Valiant Hearts is somehow related to Vandal Hearts, a PlayStation 1 tactics RPG that I regret trading in back when I was young and dumb (but haven’t written about yet). Alas, the two are no more related than…well, I tried for the longest time to think of some witty war comparison here, but came up empty. Germany and Canada? Meh. If you’ve got a killer line, drop it in the comments.