Tag Archives: Grinding Down

Hatty Hattington is working for the cats in BattleBlock Theater

BattleBlock-Theater-1 early impressions

The title of this blog post might not make any sense to those unfamiliar with BattleBlock Theater‘s plot. That said, it might not make sense regardless. Either way, it sounded catchy in my mind, and so I wrote it, because “working for the cats” is the sort of life no one should live. As a daily scooper of cat poop, trust me–I know. Rarely do I struggle with finding an image and silly phrase to write on top of it in my now classic Showcard Gothic font, but blog post titles are tricky things; you want something that will, at the same time, grab a reader’s attention and inform them about what they will be reading about. Some of my post titles are more successful than others. Just a little insider baseball here at Grinding Down, Inc.

Right. On with the show, pun completely intended. BattleBlock Theater was one of July’s free Games with Gold thingies, and, just as with Charlie Murder, I ended up downloading right at the end of the month, almost missing it entirely. I have to not slack on these because free is free, and we’re getting Motocross Madness (nay!) and Dishonored (yay!) for August 2014. I just might have to remove both Halo 3 and Crackdown from my hard-drive to make space, but that’s okay–I don’t think I’m going back to either ever again, despite there still being some 100+ Agility Orbs left to collect; I’ll live, and so will you.

I knew next to nothing about BattleBlock Theater or its developer before diving right into it. I guess they previously made Castle Crashers, which seems like a fantastic group game if you have people to play with, which I unfortunately do not. Cue sad violin music. A quick glance makes it seem like a cartoony, side-scrolling action platformer, and I think I was pretty close with my first assumption. I wasn’t expecting it to be so quirky, but quirky is fine in my books, and so listening to the narrator–voiced by Will Stamper–dramatically tell the doomed voyage of the S.S. Friendship and how all of its people, even the great Hatty Hattington, got captured by an island of cats and forced to entertainment everyone via deadly obstacle courses…well, it delightfully took me by surprise. Seriously, his voice is a rollercoaster, and it takes you places, most often from one level to another, but in a way that’s more fun than a silent loading screen or text pop-up.

For the story mode, you play through a bunch of short, platform- and puzzle-themed levels, trying to complete them as fast as possible while collecting gems and balls of yarns, both of which are used to unlock new avatars and powers, respectively. At the end, you get a letter grade, with the best being A++ and giving you two extra green gems. To get that, you need to move fast and collect everything in one go. Your little dude–which is always green for me and generally rocking a funny face–can jump, double jump, punch, and use a special attack like throwing fireballs or tossing boomerangs to knock away persistent enemies standing in your way of progress. Other parts of the level require timing, hitting switches, finding secret teleporting portals, clinging to walls/ceilings, and so on.

Naturally, getting the gems and balls of yarn is fairly easy in the early levels, but I’m now up to world five and struggling to even finish the levels with a letter grade above a B. That’s not to say that the levels are punishingly hard, just more devious about the puzzles and ways to reach everything, and since time is of the essence, you have to pick: pound your head against the wall in hopes of figuring it out or move on and finish the level faster. That said, every part of the level has a purpose, so there’s never any frustration felt over getting stuck in this corner or that; each piece in a level has a purpose, but you have to figure that out yourself. BattleBlock Theater is the type of game that gets under your skin, driving you forward to see what the next world’s levels look like and what new twists they throw at you. It also helps that, in reality, each level can be completed in under a few minutes, so the dopamine pace is rapid-fire.

As I already mentioned, the narration throughout is fantastic. In fact, audio is possibly BattleBlock Theater‘s lead actor in the limelight, deservedly so. The song that plays during the main menu begins with just some electronic noises before kicking it to the next level with a catchy-as-all-gets drum beat and horn combo. The majority of the soundtrack is upbeat, bouncy, which works great for leaping from platform to platform and punching enemy cats in the face. Oh, and the sound effects are snappy, but addictive, like the notes that play when you snag enough gems to open the exit to the level. I’m excited to hear more of it.

There’s some online play and co-op stuff in BattleBlock Theater, which I’ve not tried yet and most likely won’t ever get to. I mean, I could take a deep breath and randomly join another online player’s game, but I won’t. For starters, I’m not sure what the benefit of playing these levels with a second player is, though I guess we could potentially grab all the gems faster. Eh, I’d rather just go at it by myself, that way when I repeatedly fall into spikes or water seven times in a row I don’t have to explain it to anyone. If co-op adventure story levels aren’t your thing, then arena challenges exist, which are basically twists on classic multiplayer games like King of the Hill. Lastly, there’s a level editor, which I’ve also not explored…yet.

As a freebie for Gold members, BattleBlock Theater is a hit. It is colorful, accessible yet still challenging, brimming with content to eat up, and flavorful in the same vein that Thomas Was Alone is. Those that consider graphics everything are not going to be blown away, but this experience is more about learning a level and running through it as perfectly as possible, and it really helps that the game plays well, save for the unsatisfying melee combat. I’m glad I’m playing it now and am looking forward to finishing up the Story mode; I think there’s six worlds in total to go through. Again, I most likely won’t try to play any co-op Story levels, but maybe I’ll jump into an Arena match or two and see what that’s all about. Until then, my feline overlords.

That evil charro skeleton Carlos Calaca is no more

2173898-guac_screen_b

A problem of late is that I’m not getting to write about games immediately after finishing them up, and you can blame this on my dream goal of drawing a comic for every game I finish this year. See, in prior years, I’d write a haiku of said finished game and then, if warranted, I’d write some further and final thoughts about the experience, and I’d do both of these things relatively fast, with everything still fresh in my mind. For 2014, I beat a game, add its name to my ever-growing list, and sigh in sadness at just how far behind I am in these comics. Then, instead of writing about it, I either wallow in my own frustration or start sketching a comic for a game I beat months ago.

Now, the last few posts on Grinding Down have shown promise, as I got to cover the Puzzle Agent games quickly, am still currently playing Doki-Doki Universe, and only tapped into Charlie Murder a week ago, meaning I’m relatively caught up, but there’s a bunch of in-progress blogs on my dashboard that are beginning to grow mold. Seriously, green-and-purple fuzzy grass hairdoFor example, I still haven’t talked about my time with Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, Spyro the Dragon, or even Transistor, one of this year’s big AAA releases. Hopefully soon.

All of those two paragraphs are there to say this: I beat Guacamelee! the other night. It’s a game I started playing in April, walked away from due to a difficult boss fight, picked up again in May, walked away due to a difficult platforming puzzle section, skipped playing it entirely in June due to life falling apart, and then returned to it last night to polish off the final chunk of the game in one glorious go that nearly saw me twisting my Xbox 360 controller into plastic bits. Don’t let the cartoony graphics and bouncy tunes fool you…this is one of the toughest platforming games I’ve played since VVVVVV and not getting very far in Super Meat Boy.

If you’ll recall, humble agave farmer Juan Aguacate lives in a small village in Mexico and is in love with El Presidente’s daughter. Alas, an evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps her, forcing Juan to go after them. The story never really gets in the way and is only told moments before and after boss fights. This grandiose journey will see Juan jumping between the realms of the living and the dead, jumping between ground and air-borne enemies to punch, kick, and throw, and jumping from platform to platform to reach new areas. Basically, there’s a lot of jumping. Thankfully, the jumping controls are really good, generally leaving any missed landings as your fault, and be prepared to feel the blame constantly, especially the parts where you have to both move and switch between realms in split-second decisions. They are grueling, but then at the same time, really rewarding to complete.

I’m still not 100% completely sold on Guacamelee!‘s combat. And maybe it’s because I was still using the same tactics and combats that I rocked at the beginning of the game at the very end of it, too. After a while, Juan will have some special color-coded attacks, like uppercutting or headbutting, but I found just mashing the punch button until a button prompt appeared over the enemy’s head, which means they can now be thrown, worked well enough. Even in locked-in kill rooms. So long as you can get a good thrown enemy to bounce around and knock down other beasts, you can pretty much keep everything under control. Thankfully, you also restore health at every save point, which are frequently scattered across the Metroidvania map.

Before the final boss fight, you get the option to warp back to previous locations to finish up any side quests or find more health/stamina upgrades. I decided against this as I was cemented in my goal to finish the game, afraid I’d just end up putting it down again for another month. Thankfully, after you take down Carlos Calaca and his second form, which, for me, took at least ten attempts, you can reload into the game right before the boss fight. So I can potentially go back and look for more stuff, if I’m interested. Honestly, I’m kind of interested, and it’s all thanks to a handy-dandy map that is constantly updating where hidden areas are, as well as your completion percentage. Good on you for that, Guacamelee! because really, I can’t be bothered to remember this stuff. However, I don’t think I’ll be attempting every jumping/warp portal puzzle left because…um, my hands just can’t take it, but it is fun finding the secret areas.

I played Guacamelee! on Steam with a Xbox 360 controller, and I really can’t imagine someone using mouse and keyboard here. I mean, maybe. Um, maybe. But my tiny, one-sided controller-loving brain just can’t picture it. There are so many moments where you have to respond in less than an eye blink, and I’d say the controller is the way to go. Just my two cents. One day, it’d be fun to experience it co-op, but then that would mean co-op jumping puzzles, and my heart is all adiós a mis amigos.

Anticipating the strangeness that is Nintendo’s Tomodachi Life

gaming-tomodachi-life1

Over the years here on Grinding Down, I’ve gotten further and further away from what other websites might call “preview coverage” of the videogames still to come out. Mainly the ones I’m interested in. Which is, without a doubt, dozens upon dozens. Really, I want to play just about anything, though we all know, based on time, money, and the consoles I do own, that is never going to happen. Instead, I prefer to wait until I can actually get my stumpy little hands on the game and experience it for myself, that way the words I’m writing at least come out with confidence and a certainty that you can’t get by imagining what a game might be like. I mean, I remember thinking Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, based on a few screenshots alone, was going to be awesomely magical, and it was everything but that.

Wait, wait, wait. Before we begin, let me give y’all my early thoughts on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. If two full-fledged games and 492 packs of DLC were not enough to sate your hunger for guns and loot and farming pearls, good news–there’s going to be more Borderlands action for you. It’s set on the moon. A new move lets you “ground pound.” You can play as the wise-cracking Claptrap. I’m just setting myself up for disappointment here, as I’m probably going to pick up regardless because, well, I find the gameplay pretty addicting. There, I came clean.

Moving on. Let’s talk about Tomodachi Life, recently announced today in an unannounced Nintendo Direct to be coming out for the Nintendo 3DS this summer (June 6, 2014 to be exact), right around the same time Animal Crossing: New Leaf dropped last year. It’s the localization version of Tomodachi Collection, a unique mash-up of The Sims playful style of gameplay using your customized Miis for a whole bunch of zany nonsense. I think nonsense is a great descriptor for Tomodachi Life, and if you don’t believe, please do watch that Nintendo Direct again. Eyes open, mind open. As of late, Nintendo’s not been afraid to get weird, and I’m really digging that mentality. However, they need to figure out what they prefer–unwavering loyalty to the classic franchises to the point that they feel unnecessary, such as with Yoshi’s New Island, or mixing things up with oddball titles like NES Remix and Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball.

So, what is Tomodachi Life? Well, from the outside looking in, it’s your own personal soap opera. You fill a town with Miis–ones you’ve created or gotten from StreetPassing and so on–and you give all of these Miis distinct personalities. Digitalized voices too. After that, a lot of what happens in this alternate reality is…well, out of your hands. You and your Miis will go on adventures, fall in love, break hearts, be weird, dream a little dream, sing songs, etc. For those looking for a little more guidance, Miis have specific desires for food, clothes, other accessories, and even relationships, and they will sometimes want to play minigames with you, one of which looks like a turn-based RPG in the same vein as Find Mii. It’s not a day-to-day simulation á la Animal Crossing, more like checking in on your gaggle of Miis and seeing what trouble they get into. I personally hope to fall in love with Samus Aran and woo her away from Iwata.

Just like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Tomodachi Life supports Nintendo’s Image Share tool, which means you can expect my Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr pages to be constantly updated with the batshit antics my Mii gets up to. This push for social media interactivity makes perfect sense for this kind of game, where it is all about the seemingly unexplainable moments. Now you can just share them with everybody else with the click of a couple of buttons and watch the “likes” roll in.

Lastly, and let this be understood–the existence of Tomodachi Life on U.S. shores is a great thing, as it means there’s still hope for Fantasy Life. You haven’t forgotten about that one, have you? I certainly haven’t.

A throng of forgotten and unused blog images

For the longest time, one of Grinding Down‘s things has been that each post contains a picture at the top, and that image is edited to contain some text, generally white-colored and always in the Showcard Gothic font. Maybe it’s a pun or just a string of words that sound nice, but it helps make the blog post stand for something more, and gives readers–well, I hope it does–a good idea of what I’m going to be talking about, whether it is a rant or gushing praise of what-have-you. Don’t worry; that process is not going to change, but sometimes I get ahead of myself and create an image before I even begin writing about a game, only to discover later that, truthfully, I’m just not as interested as I previously thought I was about writing on that topic. And so that image sits, neglected and rejected, an entry to never be. Poor things.

That all said, here some Photoshopped images I found in a miscellaneous folder, and I’ll just put them up here without further comment:

harvest moon grand bazaar first 30

lets golf 3d games

mailbox2

nostalgia early impressions

rayman origins demo 3DS impressions

shank making progress

Gone Home to mysteries, answers, and everything 1990s

gone home overall thoughts

Breaking news: I’ve decided to do away with my gaming haikus, at least for 2014. Chin up, Mr. Sadface. It’s going to be okay. Really. I had a lot of fun writing them, but after two consecutive years of dipping my toes in Japanese poetry–well, if you can call 104 haikus a dip–I’m ready to try something else. Gotta keep things fresh. If you’ve been keeping up with Grinding Down over the weekend, then you’ll know what the long and short of it all is: comics. Yes, yes. Actual comics about the games I’ve played, and I really don’t know why it took me so long to combine these two passions of mine together.

Anyways, Gone Home gets the special honor of being my first completed game for 2014. Compare that with Yoshi’s Island from last year. That’s right. Go on. I dare you to compare the two. One looks like a drawing, and the other has you occasionally looking at drawings. Hmm. If you’ll recall, Gone Home was also my number one pick for the top 10 videogames I missed out on in 2013, but thanks to a recently good deal via the Humble Bundle store I was able to pick up The Fullbright Company’s debut for a sweet price, one that wouldn’t make me terribly irate if I discovered that the game didn’t work on my ASUS laptop. The good news is that, obviously, it ran just fine, even though it defaulted to the lowest of settings to do so and some of the textures looked a wee flat. Small quibbles aside, I absolutely loved it.

Gone Home‘s plot itself is pretty straightforward: it is June 1995, and Kaitlin Greenbriar is returning home to her parents’ new house in the Pacific Northwest after traveling abroad. She gets in very late on a rainy, thunder-laden night only to discover the house is completely empty, with a strange note on the front door from her sister, urging Kaitlin to not go digging around for clues as to what happened. Naturally, though, that’s exactly what you do, and the whole game is built around exploration and piecing together where Sam and Kaitlin’s parents went to. If I’m being honest and a little spoilery, that’s not at all what the plot is really about; in truth, this is actually Sam’s story, not Kaitlin’s, and there’s stuff about her parents to unravel, as well as what went wrong with the previous owners of the house to have it now deemed the Psycho House by other students at Sam’s school. Kaitlin is just a means to see all this unfold, and she is mostly non-reactive, save for a few text-only comments when finding items related to her parents’ sex life.

The game itself takes around two to three hours to complete, depending how thorough you search each and every room in the larger-than-life mansion-like new Greenbriar home. That said, Gone Home never wastes a single second though or pads out rooms with nothing that isn’t vital or important to the story-telling, and so you are constantly advancing, learning more and more. I found all this beyond exhilarating and couldn’t wait to see what was behind that closed door over there or what hid in the third drawer from the top, but only after I clicked open the first two drawers. You move with WASD, and zoom in for a closer look and pick up items using the mouse. Oh, and you can also fully twirl items around in your hand, to check out all sides, and you’d think there would have been more puzzles built around this mechanic, but Gone Home is actually not about puzzles–save for the few combination locks–and this mechanic exists more so to keep you in the world, prove that these rolls of tissue paper and printed books are real, that everything has a front and back and can be examined properly.

Anyone that actually grew up in the 1990s is clearly going to sink into Gone Home a bit deeper than those that didn’t. The game oozes with the era, from magazines wreathed in pop culture icons to board games and mounds of VHS tapes of your favorite Saturday afternoon couch-flicks, like Blade Runner and just about every episode of The X-Files. In fact, Super Nintendo plays a wee part in the events that transpire in Sam’s young, blossoming life, and you can find various fictional cartridges around the house, some goofier than others. Regardless, the attention to detail is astounding and appreciated, especially for a game that’s all about looking and listening. I couldn’t listen to too many of Lonnie’s musical recordings though, sorry.

Many have complained about the bait-and-switch trick in Gone Home. It’s initially set up to seem like your typical ghost story: girl comes home on a rainy night to find her house completely empty of life. For most of the early rooms, you expect something spooky to happen. The TV to randomly flip on? A door to slowly creak open itself? The sound of footsteps overhead? But no, nothing like that happens ever, save for a single moment of pure genius that is logically explained so long as you found the correct paperwork earlier in the house. This is not a ghost story. This is a human story, and it is remarkable in its dedication to remain rooted in reality, one I think many can relate to on some level, whether it is with teenage romance, a failed marriage, not being good enough for your father, and so on.

I think Gone Home is both a great game and a very important one. If you haven’t played it yet, I highly recommend you do so as soon as possible. Videogame story-telling has a new measuring stick.

Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week – Miscellaneous

gd chrono cross week misc roundup copy

Well, here we are, at the end of Grinding Down‘s Chrono Cross week. Hope you’ve enjoyed my wee analytical posts so far, and I definitely have other videogames I’d love to examine piece by piece like so somewhere down the line. Maybe Suikoden II, perhaps? Super Metroid? Unlimited SaGa?! That last one was a joke, for those scratching their noggins.

Anyways, I’ve now covered what I consider to be the big four topics when talking about this classic Squaresoft RPG: story, characters, the battle system, and music. This final blog post is meant to be a grab-all in terms of smaller topics to cover, as I still–surprise, surprise–have things to talk about when it comes to all the parts that make up the unconventional puzzle that is Chrono Cross. Hopefully I’ll touch upon everything I want to here, as I’d like to move away from the game for a bit, let it quiet down in my skull, and start tackling the next game on my list of “must beat in 2013,” which is probably going to be Silent Hill 2.

That said, on with the further musings.

Window Frames

I remember fondly changing the color of the window frame in Final Fantasy VII from that default blue to a soft green to a zany gradient-inspired explosion of rainbow colors and loving it for the remainder of Cloud’s journey to take down Sephiroth. I wish more games allowed for fun, optimal customization like this. Now, in Chrono Cross, you can’t change the color of your dialogue box, but you can find special frames to replace the standard one. Personally, most of them are ugly as heck, but I did try out the My Favorite Martian and Shellfish frames for a tiny bit, but eventually switched back to something less eye-busting. It’s more fun finding the frames than using them, but it’s nice to the have option nonetheless.

Money

For the most part, money is useless in Chrono Cross. You acquire it with every battle, but you barely spend any of it, and I suspect that, even if you tried, you’d find difficulty in emptying your pockets completely. I wish I had written down how much I had by the end of the game, but it was probably in the 120,000 to 150,000 range, and when you consider that most Elements cost less than 500, with the highest going for maybe around 3,000, well…you have plenty of money to splurge on other things. If only other things existed or were worth it. Which leads me to our next topic of discussion…

Forging/Disassembling

In certain towns, you can speak to blacksmiths who can help forge weapons, armor, and accessories for Serge and his companions. Later on, you also get an item to allow you to do this out on the overworld map. To forge something, you need some a paltry sum of money (see above) and the correct components, and then boom, you have a new thing. Some components are harder to come by, like mythril and rainbow shell, but for the most part, you can make a lot of stuff just using items won from battle. The long and short of this all though is that these weapons and armor are not worth going the extra mile, and some are actually found in various dungeons. There are a few good accessories to make though. Disassembling breaks down weapons, armor, and accessories you’re not using into components, but you’re better off saving them for when you need to equip a new character you haven’t used yet with gear.

Component trading

Um…I have never even attempted to figure this out. Basically, you trade a certain number of Element levels for things like eyeballs, feathers, and scales. Again, just doesn’t seem worth the effort, and trading in useful Elements for components you can earn in battle which are only used for forging items, which I just mentioned are not needed…well, I…wait. What was I saying again? Um, just skip this.  There are two of these trader types, anyways, so they are easy to miss. The first appears in both Guldove and Termina (Another), and the other is in Zappa’s house in Termina (Home).

New Game+

I don’t do many New Game+, mostly because nowadays I just don’t have the time. Though some games like Borderlands 2 really make it worth the effort, offering more things to see and do and become. Chrono Trigger has New Game+, but I’ve not gone back since I beat it last year, and I doubt I will try the New Game+ in Chrono Cross.

I love this RPG, truly I do–it’s just I don’t see what the point is other than viewing alternate endings. Sure, now is a great time to go back and get all the characters you missed out on during your first run because you picked Kid over Leena or Nikki over Guile, but as I lamented earlier this week, those side characters are pretty thin personality-wise. The game will play out the same way–until the ending, depending on when you fight the TimeDevourer–so that’s not very exciting to see all over, though you can speed up the gameplay to fast-forward cutscenes and so on. Let me take that one step further and fast forward us over to YouTube to watch all the different endings and save us hours upon hours.

I suspect I will return to Chrono Cross some time down the line, but not for a long while. Couple of years, at least. And when I do, I’ll probably just play it again from the beginning on a blank save slot–because that’s how I roll. I’m thrilled to have finally experienced it as fully as I could, but now I need to move on and let this experience reside quietly in my brain until something stirs it from its slumber. When that time comes, someone please remind me to ditch Kid early on and see what world-traveling life with fishing girl-next-door Leena is like. Okay, okay…I’ll give Poshul a fair chance, too.

Welcome to Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week

chrono cross gd week copy

A few weeks ago, I beat Chrono Cross for the very first time. This was truly a momentous occasion, as I’ve played the first several hours of that game countless times over the last thirteen years since its release, always getting to a specific plot point and then unfortunately losing interest. I would then forget everything plot-wise and gameplay-wise by the time I got back to it and just start over, hopeful that that run would be the one to see me to the end. Alas, it never was, but I made a plea to myself this year that I’d beat five specific videogames, and Chrono Cross was the prime target. Well, mission accomplished.

The truth: I love this game. I know many don’t and consider it a failure of a sequel, and I can agree there that this is no follow-up to Chrono Trigger, but as a separate entity I think it is beyond fantastic, boils and bumps included. Yeah, it has its weird quirks and healthy share of problems, but there’s also a lot of neat stuff happening thanks to being able to travel between parallel dimensions and customizing Element slots for battle and gathering a large cast of characters to fight by your side. Plus, the tunes are so dang good. In fact, I believe there’s enough here to talk about to devote a whole week of Grinding Down blog posts to it. Hope you’re ready. Hope I’m ready, too.

Anyways, here are the Chrono Cross topics I’ll be covering over the next handful of days:

  • Story, or the thing the writers desperately want to believe is a cohesive story
  • Characters, or the craziest accents ever and look who is severely underdeveloped (spoiler: every character)
  • Battle and Elements, or learning how to slot properly
  • Music, or sounds made by lofty angels using heavenly instruments infused with the glory that is good
  • Miscellaneous, or how money doesn’t matter, or forging for that matter, and how I’m terrified of New Game+

Yeah, think that should cover it. If not, I can always add an extra day, because in my world, I make weeks as long–or as short–as I want. So equip your best armor, slot in a bunch of GravityBlows, and bathe in the beauty that is Chrono Cross as we figure out what I love, like, and hate in one of Squaresoft’s defining RPGs from the PlayStation 1 era.

Grand Theft Auto III, my college days landmark in videogames

gta3 for the ps2 one more try

Everyone was going crazy for Grand Theft Auto V yesterday, which I guess makes total sense, considering that’s when it released to the foaming-at-the-mouth world. Personally, I’ve not been interested in GTA games for a long while, and my strongest emotions for the series revolve around Grand Theft Auto III, and that’s because I consider that–without a doubt–my college game. No other game save for Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, which came out a year later, reminds me so strongly of my dorm days, of long weekends avoiding papers and drinking the night away. Though the latter title also makes me think of shoulder-high snow walls and a desperate grab for mac and cheese, but I’ll save that tale for another time…

In 2001, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman in college, a hopeful art major at that, and my suite-mates got a copy of GTA III for their PS2 the day it dropped. At that time, I was still clinging to my PS1 and treasured copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, but college is all about sharing, and so we’d huddle together in our tiny, cramped dorm rooms and just lose ourselves in Liberty City, each taking turns never really doing any missions. It was all about stealing cars and running from the cops and watching your vehicle fall to pieces as your getaway plan went from grand to gravel as you smashed into everything in your way. That game encouraged emergent gameplay at every turn and rewarded you with a good time laughing like loons with friends.

Last night, I decided to remind myself of those golden days, popping in Grand Theft Auto III into my still-chugging PlayStation 2. Actually, first I checked my memory cards to see if I had any saved data on them, but alas, no. Not for any of my PS2 GTA games, which is a bummer as I distinctly remember getting pretty far into Vice City. Anyways, story-wise, the game begins with the silent criminal Claude being betrayed by his girl Catalina and getting arrested. After being sentenced to 10 years in prison, Claude  is transported across a bridge in a prison truck, which the Colombian Cartels fortuitously ambush. From there, Claude escapes and makes ties with the Leone mafia crime family as he tries to build himself back up in order to find Catalina and learn why she abandoned him.

I kind of forgot how purposely blurry the cutscenes in Grand Theft Auto III are. They actually really hurt my eyes, enough so that I had to look away during the opening moments, and I have to assume that 2001 Paul saw them as amazing and cinematic. After that, I found the game easy to pick up, and just as easy to go off the rails with, which is my favorite thing to do. I did the first few missions, which all act like tutorials. You drive and pick up a hooker, you drive over to some guy and beat the life out of him with a baseball bat, and you steal a car and get it repainted so the cops won’t know any better. After that, I drove around a bit, listened to some radio chatter, and explored the streets, which are pretty barren by today’s standards. Oh, and I noticed that the cars fall apart super fast. Like, two or three hits/collisions and you’re smoking and stalling in the middle of the road. Also, Liberty City is littered with trash. I think this was Rockstar’s way to try and fill in the empty spots, but it is weird to see the same piece of newspaper flittering by Claude every five seconds. We can also blame the limitation of the PS2 though, I guess. Maybe I’ll dip back into Vice City or San Andreas at some point, too.

Anyways, back to current affairs. Grand Theft Auto V looks like fun. Really, it does. I like the idea of three main protagonists that you can bounce around from to progress the plot and take on different mission types. But there’s a rub. I absolutely hated my time with Grand Theft Auto IV–not bothering to link to any specific articles, but if you search around Grinding Down, you can certainly find some less-than-praising remarks from me about Niko and the difficulty that game throws at you unfairly–and calling back to GTA III, a lot of fun is playing the game with others and being goofy or laughing at all the mistakes. That forthcoming online aspect might be ripe for that. Or maybe not. Until then, I’m more likely to pick up Saints Row IV first, which is more my thing these days: a weird, funny game that embraces its weird and funny bits and doesn’t need a room full of onlookers to be immensely enjoyable.

The Sony PlayStation 4, my hopes and fears

SONY DSC

Well, it’s coming down to the wire, but here it is, a blog post on Grinding Down about the forthcoming Sony PlayStation 4. Later today, Sony is hosting a meeting which many believe exists to announce its newest console, the next in its line of PlayStations. Given that I just bought a PlayStation 3 only a few weeks ago and have barely found time to both play with it and explore its non-gaming functions, like Netflix and PlayStation Home, I’m not at all interested in owning Sony’s newest system any time soon, but I am curious to see what it’s going to be all about. As always, I remain cautious, but let me share with y’all some hopes I have, as well as my biggest fears, many of which can apply with whatever Microsoft’s new console is gonna be, too.

Here we go.

Hopes

New games in established franchises

From the look of things, Naughty Dog is done with the Jak and Daxter franchise, but I think they should open it up for a new trilogy. That kooky platforming series really did wonders for the PS2, and a new Jak game could easily sway me, especially if it is more Jak II than anything else. Let’s also get a new true Ratchet & Clank game, one that focuses solely on platforming and crazy-ass guns. Some steps have already been made, with Sly Cooper 4 coming out and surprising everyone, mostly because it came out with little promotion from Sony, but whatever–it exists. New IPs are exciting for their newness, but offering up a new experience in familiar territory can be quite comforting. Hopefully I’m not alone in that.

Bring back the forgotten

I want a new Jumping Flash! I want the rebirth of Crash Bandicoot. I want whatever might come after Chrono Cross. Remember how awesome, G-Police was? Yeah, me too. Now’s the time, as those franchises are old enough to hit the nostalgia funny bones and unknown enough that the younger generation might just think of them as new IPs, sad as that might be. A return to the glory days, ya know.

Enhancing PlayStation Plus

My only complaint so far about getting a free year of PlayStation Plus is that I don’t have enough time to play all the free games they give out. I’d love to see this service carry over to the new system, as it offers a ton of great content and discounts for a reasonable price. Granted, my first year is free, but I can see myself signing up for it once that runs dry.

Fears

No backwards compatibility

When the PlayStation 2 was revealed, the concept of “backwards compatible” was entirely new. You could buy the new console, but still play all the games from the previous one. Sah-weet. It’s a concept that is fantastic for gamers, but it seems that head honchos don’t love it, eventually snipping it as a feature from later remodels or iterations. I believe the PS4 will allow you to play (or at least download) Ps3 games, but maybe they won’t for a guaranteed amount of time. Which would stink considering how many great games are still coming out for the PS3, like Ni no Kuni and The Last of Us. But the times, they are a-changing.

Always online

Granted, with Wifi, always being online is easier to accomplish, but something about the restriction rubs me wrong. There are certainly situations that might cause for your Internet to be off, but your power still on, and the fact that you then couldn’t play the videogame you paid for on the system you paid for seems really offensive. Yes, I have Steam and use it frequently, but haven’t really run into any problems with always being connected. But Steam is on a computer, and a videogame console should really be treated as a separate entity.

Online no longer free

I’m really close on cancelling my Gold membership for the Xbox 360, since the only time I really use it is to play Borderlands 2 online, which is happening less and less these days. You don’t have to pay to play online with the PS3, something I’d love to see going forward. If that gets put behind a paywall…well, dang. Just yet another thing to pay for that should be part of the whole package. It’s the first step to charging players to save their game progress.

Gimmicky controller

I’m sure you’ve seen that image of a supposed PS4 controller, which has some kind of touchpad on the front of it. Whether this operates as a sort of main menu hub is yet to be determined. I just hope I don’t have to look down while playing to do something else; that only works on the DS/3DS, where the screens are very close together to begin with.

Hopefully we’ll know a lot more by tonight! Are you going to watch Sony’s presentation live or wait for reports to go online? Me, I’ll be watching Giant Bomb watch it live, as I need some kind of humorous filter to get through all the pomp that these events harness.

Sir Leopold has waited way too many years for a whomping

Right now, I’m only concentrating on a handful of videogames while I wait for the remainder of 2012 to fill in. Namely, these babies: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, The Sword of Hope II, Metroid Fusion, and Borderlands. And, strangely, we can add…Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King to the list. Yeah, that one Level-5 RPG from way back in the day, circa 2005. Let me explain.

Well, as readers of Grinding Down already know from yesterday’s post, I’ve been immersing myself in another PlayStation 2 RPG via the Persona 4 Endurance Run over at Giant Bomb. This has been a constant reminder of the numerous great RPG/JRPGs that live on that system, many of which I still need to play some more or even ultimately finish. I won’t name them all just now–lucky you–but DQVIII, a game that I ate up like endless bowls of shrimp-flavored Ramen during my first few months in a new, Internet-less apartment in Clifton, NJ, suddenly called back to me. Like a sailor to a siren, and I went wide-eyed and mumbling, not sure what was to unfold.

Loading up my last save from six or seven years ago was downright disorienting. I mean, yeah, there was some immediate familiarity thanks to the 150+ hours I’ve dumped into Dragon Quest IX, opening back up in a church to that unchanging churchy tunes, with Akira Toriyama’s art style bright and clear and a colorful world as far as the silent hero’s eyes could see. My quiet guy’s name is Taurust_ with a bonus blank space at the end because I remember not knowing then what the confirm button was and accidentally adding an empty space at the end. Oh wells. It’s not like I played the game for that lo…oh wait, my save slot says 82 hours. Dang it.

And throwing caution to the wind, I immediately went to the spot where I guess I last stopped at, and that place involved a boss battle fight with an evil winged dog named Sir Leopold. Hmm…yeah. If there’s one thing I struggle with remembering about Dragon Quest VIII, it’s the story stuff. I mean, I know that I’m a mute, and that the king is Yoda, and the horse is his daughter, and that fat dude has a funny accent, but that’s really it. It might be beneficial to read a wiki or even the back of the box at some point, but whatever–fight turn-based style first, ask questions second. Except no, that didn’t work out. Sir Leopold wiped the floor with my team of four, and we woke anew back at a church with half our money gone.

So I’ve been wandering a bit and re-learning the ins and outs of the world, as well as the menus and other systems at play (casino, monster team, mini medals, item creation, and so on). I completely forgot I could summon a sabertooth tiger to ride. I’ve grinded a little bit, raising all four team members up a single level, so that’s good, but probably not good enough to take on Sir Leopold again just yet. I think I need better armor and weapons first, but to get those…I need gold, and I need a lot of it. Trying to see if I can earn a decent amount with casino BINGO, but that probably is a super slow process.

But I’m okay with dipping back into Dragon Quest VIII, even if it’s only to grind a bit and ultimately get nowhere. That Sir Leopold boss fight seems nearly impossible from where I stand, and it’s not even the final fight of the game. Not sure. I’d love to see how it all ends, considering I definitely wanted to see how it ended back in 2005, but somehow got distracted with shiny things like Final Fantasy XII and Rogue Galaxy. The music is, no surprise, gorgeous, and the battle system remains simple yet addicting. Unlike IX, you do not get to see what skill you’ll get when leveling up and assigning points, which is frustrating, but definitely keeps you guessing and crossing your fingers for something stellar. Between these two games, I’ve collectively used up over 250 hours of my life. Blimey, gov!