Tag Archives: indie

If you work hard in Punch Club’s training, the fight is easy

I don’t know much about boxing, and I know even less about what it entails to train to become a good boxer. I figure it’s a lot of punching bags, doing push-ups, and dodging and weaving. I saw one of the Rocky films, but couldn’t tell you which one. Well, if anything, Punch Club is showing me that there’s much more involved, such as holding down part-time jobs, fighting mutated monsters in the sewers, eating food, sleeping, and keeping up your romantic relationships by bringing a young woman some flowers. The boxing life, it ain’t easy.

There’s a story here, and it’s sad. Your father was brutally murdered before your eyes…kind of just like how Batman’s parents went down. Now you must train hard, eat chicken, and punch dudes in the face to earn your place in the Punch Club ranks. All of this serves for you to discover who ended your father’s life and get that sweet, sweet revenge. I’m not there yet, still pretty low in the ranks, because it can be hard to multi-task, and so I’m splitting my time between multiple tasks, not sure what to really be focusing on in the short term. I figure it is better right now to earn money and buy training gear for my garage than keep paying the expensive gym fees, and that’s my main goal. The problem is something else always gets in the way.

Punch Club, for those that don’t know, comes from Lazy Bear Games and is a boxing tycoon management game with multiple branching storylines. Your goal is pretty clear from the start, but how you get there depends on whether you want to legitimately climb the rankings or take the more ridiculous, shady route. I’m kind of dancing between both paths at the moment, unsure where my loyalty lies, but I’ll eventually need to pick a path and stick to it.

Whatever task you’re completing, whether is it punching a bag or delivering pizza, gameplay boils down to watching a series of fluctuating statistic bars representing your various levels go up or down and then judging when enough is enough. Every activity essentially fills up some and empties others, with time given a crucial stat bar of its own. It’s an approach that carries through to the most important portion of Punch Club: training up your fighter. You can improve your brawler’s three core attributes–strength, agility, and stamina–by using certain pieces of gym equipment. However, your abilities will degrade over time when you’re not exercising, so it’s best to reserve the really hard graft for the period just before your next fight, to better your chances for climbing that ladder.

I’m usually not one for management sims, but Punch Club has both an aesthetic and attitude that I really do dig. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is basically a sim of a 1980s fighter movie, so all the nostalgia is quite warranted. I won’t spoil all the references, but you’ll see loving nods to Rocky, Blood Sport, Cobra, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Fight Club, Aliens, and more. The game itself uses pixel art, and it’s better than anything you probably ever saw on the SNES, with more colors and attention to detail. It might not be for everyone, but it’s definitively for me.

I don’t know how far up the ladder my trainee will get, but, for the time being, I’ll keep climbing.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #34 – The Tragic Tale of Bark Scruffalo

Protect your doggy
From monoliths, enemies
Act fast, drop mines, live

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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Dragon Fin Soup

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Y’all know I love a good, strange-as-heck videogame title, and Dragon Fin Soup is a wonderful example of such a beauty. One, it contains the word dragon, so I’m already intrigued, but it also sounds more like a fancy, medieval recipe than a tactical RPG mixed with roguelike elements and procedurally generated worlds. It tells you nothing about the game, but entices you to check it out nonetheless, which is exactly what I did…many years ago. According to my save file, I played 21 minutes and 51 seconds total. Well, let’s revisit the abnormal critter once more now in 2019 before I get to the uninstalling part.

Dragon Fin Soup stars Red Robin, a charming, yet raging alcoholic bounty hunter who would rather get into a bar fight than deliver baked goods. Players must take up Robin’s blades and set out across Asura, a lushly colorful fantasy world that sits on the back of an enormous space turtle–um, was Terry Pratchett okay with this?–on a journey to discover the secrets of her bloody past. That’s the setup, and it’s pretty interesting; at least our protagonist isn’t an amnesiac for no reason whatsoever. I’m just not sure how much like a twisted version of Red Riding Hood she is supposed to be…

Okay, now I remember what my initial problem with Dragon Fin Soup was. For some reason, the entire game doesn’t fit on my small, desk TV monitor, with important UI being cut off in the four corners or hard to read entirely. Alas, there is no option within the game to correct this, and I don’t have this problem with any other game on my PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 2…so I’m not sure how to correct it. Grrr. It makes figuring out what is going on a bit difficult, especially returning to the game after so many years away from it. Not impossible, but just more work than I want to put into this thing.

Dragon Fin Soup reminds me a bit of Dungeons of Dredmor, which…was a game I didn’t understand at all during my first few attempts at it. Nowadays, I’m much more familiar with the roguelike genre, but that doesn’t mean I love every game that takes permadeath super seriously or identifying items essential for breathing. For every Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac, there are countless other iterations that take inspiration from the punishing genre and run with it, for better or for worse. I think it is all about feel, and something feels off in Dragon Fin Soup; perhaps it is too much information at once or none at all. Speaking of that…

There’s no tutorial, though there is a dream sequence at the start that immediately throws you into combat. After that, you are left to your own devices, which for me, returning to this after years of being away, did nothing good for me. Dragon Fin Soup is a turn-based strategy game. Each move the player makes gives enemy units a chance to respond. Thankfully, it’s not as slow and laborious as it sounds. In fact, once you get a hang of the game’s rhythm and controls, combat can be fast-paced and frenetic. You’ll need to use a mix of magic, bombs, gunplay, and melee combat to take down your adversaries. I unfortunately didn’t get to see enough to keep me engaged and wanting to explore more or learn about Red Robin’s past.

Maybe in another life, Dragon Fin Soup. You still have a wonderfully odd title, and for that alone I give you all the kudos.

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.

All I can say about Auf Abwegen is nein, danke

This might sound super obvious, but jumping is essential when it comes to platforming, and Auf Abwegen does not nail the feeling of good, reliable jumping at all. And without being able to jump well and with precision, there is nothing I could do to get away from the pack of bloodhounds chasing me, which is a shame because, for a free thing on Steam, this seemed to have promise from the start. Well, from a narrative perspective, that is. Oh well, you can’t win them all, and that’s something I’m slowly coming to terms with. Not everything can be completed or seen through to conclusion.

Auf Abwegen, which I believe translates from German to “gone astray” or “on the wrong path,” has you controlling a red fox in its natural habitat. This seems to be some kind of VR simulation, played by people up in outer space, with the implication that Earth is no more, and this is one of the ways they can experience what life used to be like on the forgotten planet. It is a one-man project from user Kindman, but there is nothing kind about the threats and frustration you’ll experience in each scenario you come across, whether it is simply learning how to go under tree roots or running so quick that you can’t see what is up ahead.

Evidently, there are three levels to master, but I think the one where the bloodhounds chase you is only the second one. Or it could be the last challenge, but I don’t really know since I couldn’t get past it after 40-plus attempts. Let me describe what you do in parts one and two. It opens with a tutorial section, where you learn how to move the fox; it can jump, crawl under roots, and run. You are then tasked with finding food for your family, and it is up to you to both figure out how and what you want to hunt. I got a mouse, a bird, and an egg, I think, which worked out, but getting these things was no easy task. For instance, there is a section where you are leaping from lily pads to logs to rocks in a small pond. Again, the jumping is so loose and finicky that landing on these tiny platforms is seemingly random. Chasing the mouse requires you to run it down–not sure how this thing made it across the water–and again, running fast and jumping here isn’t ideal.

However, after delivering the food to your wife and cubs–do foxes have cubs?–you enter the chase sequence, and this is where the madness begins. The fox can run fast, so fast that you can’t see what is coming up next. However, you have to keep moving or else. It might be a hedgehog you have to jump over or a gap in the ground, and you have to use lightning-fast reflexes to overcome these obstacles because the bloodhounds are coming, and if they touch you once, you lose and must start all over, bugle call and all. So it then becomes a game of memorization, but even memorizing what is next doesn’t help when the jumping is unreliable. Sure, some deaths I’ll blame on me, but most of them were me squeezing my controller in pure frustration because I had cleared a bunch of obstacles only to jump into a wooden log with branches instead of jumping over it because I didn’t press the button early enough. Ugh, no thanks.

I do dig the look of Auf Abwegen, from its science-heavy computer interface at the start to the hand-painted backgrounds of the forest, backed by a soft, melodic piano-driven soundtrack, minus that annoying bugle call signaling the bloodhounds that it is time to hunt. The cartoony parts, such as the fox and fish and bloodhounds, pop against the backgrounds nicely. There’s some decent voice-acting, though I think it is all in German, but there are subtitles to read, with only a couple of grammar mistakes throughout.

If y’all are feeling nice or masochistic enough to play Auf Abwegen, by all means, give it a shot for free on Steam. And let me know what happens after you get past the bloodhounds. I’m genuinely curious.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #31 – The Wind

Creepy atmosphere
Listen to the wind, follow
Effective chills here

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.

Resolve an ancient conflict on Wuppo’s quest for a new home

I have way too many games on Steam, and the good bulk of them I have no memory of how they got there. Some were probably freebies, and others cost money or were purchased during a sale. The easiest guess is that many of them came from one of the thousands of gaming bundles I’ve participated in, but the when and where escapes me each and every time I scroll down my list and pause on a name that just seems completely foreign to me. Today, we’re going to talk about Wuppo, a game I have no memory of buying, but I guess I did because…well, it is there, installed on my Steam library, and it looks like a really cute, colorful platformer.

After being kicked out of its apartment home for making another mess via an ice cream cone, one lonely Wum, which is a type of round, featureless creature native to this world, must travel far and wide to find a new place to live. From the metropolitan haven Popocity to the cavernous Bliekopolis, this Wum will discover magical places and encounter strange creatures along the way. Now, this Wum is no traditional hero and only by using its wit and charm, along with the help of a handful of items, can it truly succeed. That’s the main gist of the story, and it’s told through in-game dialogue that is both lively and quite fun to read, reminding me instantly of Pikuniku and Night in the Woods. You’ll also learn more lore by collecting film strips to watch.

Wuppo starts out easy enough, but don’t let its cute aesthetic and bouncy music fool you–the difficulty quickly amps up once you encounter your first boss battle. Fights require a decent amount of precision movement alongside the memorization of enemy patterns, and it doesn’t help that the jump button is on LT, which takes some getting used to, especially if you like double-jumping all the time, which, in this game, is a must. Your main attack consists of firing guns in a setup very similar to your average twin-stick shooter, so you use the stick to both determine the direction and angling of your firing. It takes a little time to get used to, plus you can switch out your gun for other weapons or items to hold, such as a bird that feeds you information at specific points.

Let’s get into the controls a bit more…because they are important. You have controls for basic movement, an action button that does whatever you need in a given context, and a dedicated button just for whistling, which is never necessary, but appreciated nonetheless. Your Wum’s health meter is justified as “happiness,” and you can increase it by making new friends, watching film strips, or eating your favorite food. The game is mostly an adventure platformer, and you’ll be making some large jumps or timed jumps to get to new places. There’s a map you can view, but I honestly didn’t find it satisfying or felt like it grounded me in this world. Maybe I’m just reading it wrong.

Wuppo is pretty hands off. It hardly ever guides you to the next place or quest, leaving it up to you to work out how to progress, which can result in some bits of frustration. Occasionally, there are moments where it is hard to make out specific buttons or levers to pull, as well as what the pathways are, making you feel stuck for no other reason than clarity. Items are placed in your inventory non-ceremoniously, and it’s up to you to figure out how to use them and where to use them, which some players, like Dark Souls fans, might like, but I don’t have time for all that.

Currently, as shown in the picture at the top of this post, I’m trying to find specific items for an altar, which is proving more difficult than I initially imagined. We’ll see if I ever complete this task or just move on to something else. I do like the look and vibe of Wuppo greatly, but it isn’t hooking me too hard besides its playful aesthetic, and there are plenty of other platformers to try out in my Steam/Twitch libraries.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #30 – vApe Escape

An innocent ape
Must destroy vape dispenser
To find peace, homeland

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.