Tag Archives: Metroidvania

The world is ripe for digging in SteamWorld Dig 2

While playing I, Hope and growing extremely more disinterested and disappointed in the whole thing, I began to tinker away at SteamWorld Dig 2. This was a seemingly sleeper hit for many last year, and I, like many, wish I had played it sooner. It was like experiencing polar opposite games, where one game was just learning how to program jumping code for the main character and then the other game was able to flawlessly nail the feeling of feet lifting off the ground in order to reach a higher platform. I know I shouldn’t compare the two, as they are vastly different in countless ways, but I can’t help it, considering I would use SteamWorld Dig 2 as a feel-good chaser after dealing with some frustrating areas on repeat in I, Hope.

Let’s start at the start. SteamWorld Dig 2‘s story takes place between the events of SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist, of which the latter I have in my Steam library, but have not checked out yet. Following Rusty’s disappearance at the end of SteamWorld Dig, Dorothy, a robot who he had befriended, travels to the mining town of El Machino in order to search for him. Along the way, she comes across Fen, a remnant of the Vectron that Rusty had previously fought, who joins Dorothy as a navigator. While searching the mines for Rusty and hearing rumors of him turning into a monstrous machine, Dorothy comes across a group of humans led by Doris, who claims that mysterious machines are triggering earthquakes. From there, Dorothy is off to investigate.

The gameplay is quite similar to the original SteamWorld Dig, but much more refined. The loop is very much the same–dig deep underground, collect gems and materials, unearth the terrors of the underworld, and return to the top to cash in your collected goods for upgrades to help you better navigate this “platform mining adventure forged in Metroidvania flames.” Those are the developer’s own words, but man do they nail it right there. You’ll also unlock fast travel points along the way, so you can hop to and fro with ease, and some areas will require backtracking once you acquire a certain ability or perk, such as the jetpack or grappling hook.

I ended up taking a long break from SteamWorld Dig 2 because of the time I spent in the hospital and a growing general disinterest in playing many games on my laptop, but coming back to it months later is a breeze. One of my favorite elements is related to cogs. All of Dorothy’s tools are upgradeable with cash earned from excavating gems, and additional features are upgraded with cogs, which are found for the most part in secret areas or puzzle rooms scattered around the map. So, for example, for your pickaxe, you can use modification cogs to unlock Hunter’s Edge, which gives +5 extra XP per enemy killed with pickaxe, or Bounty Hunter, which nets you a cash prize for taking out enemies with the pickaxe. What is super awesome about this is you are not locked in to any of these mods and can switch them out freely at will, similar to Functions from Transistor.

Graphically, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a pure delight, especially on my laptop since I sit so close to the screen. It reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon, all bright and bouncy and safe to absorb. The robot designs are fun and imaginative, and there’s more to talk to here than the first game. The game’s soundtrack is strong, especially the song that plays in El Machino, which is important, because you’ll be returning there a whole bunch for selling goods and upgrading your gear. Sound effects are solid, especially the noise of you collecting gems and materials, which you’ll be doing a lot of; Dorothy’s pickaxe attack against an enemy is also quite pleasant.

I’m making no promises that I’ll see SteamWorld Dig 2 to its conclusion in 2018, but that’s okay. This is a gaming experience worth savoring and dipping back into now and then to get just a little further down the hole. I fully expect Image & Form to come out with a SteamWorld Dig 3 or another spin-off like SteamWorld Heist, as this world and its characters are too good to not do more with them. I’ll be ready, whenever they are ready.

Let loose in Prey’s luxuriously haunting sci-fi playground

It truly is surprising to me that I didn’t fall for Fallout 4 as much as I initially imagined I would, considering the hours and thoughts I put into Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. The game didn’t strike me the same way, and I’ve tried going back to it several times, only to get as far as rescuing Preston and his people and bringing them back to Sanctuary, before losing interest. Still, I love all things Fallout-related, like Fallout Shelter and cute little collectibles, and am super curious to see how the Fallout board game works, especially since it can be played solo, something I actively look for now in my tabletop games. However, this post isn’t actually about Fallout 4, it’s about Prey, the new hot thang from Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda in 2017, which is turning out to be the Fallout 4 game I wanted all along.

In Prey, the player controls Morgan Yu, either as a man or woman, exploring the space station Talos I, in orbit around Earth–Moon L2, where research into a hostile alien collective called the Typhon is underway. Unfortunately, because you know nothing can ever go right with doing science stuff in outer space, the Typhon escape confinement, and Morgan must use a variety of weapons and abilities derived from these nightmarish alien monsters to avoid getting killed while searching for a way to escape the station. It’s a haunting tale of loss and domination, told through environmental storytelling and revealing audio logs that bring to life many, many characters that are very much dead and destroyed. Or sometimes turned against you. Either way, the narrative is strong, believable.

Prey is a systems-driven adventure, playable in a number of ways. An immersive sim, if you will, in the same vein of BioShock and Dishonored, letting you make your way through levels and complete missions, but not enforcing the means by which you must get the job done. Which makes sense considering this is French developer Arkane’s bread and butter for the last eight-ish years. Still, the amount of freedom you have is almost unheard of, both in terms of playing style and exploration, especially once you get to the Talos I Lobby and have access to the no gravity area just outside its walls, which lets you travel just about anywhere you want on Talos I, so long as you’ve unlocked the right doors and can survive the trip. Early on, I suffered from choice anxiety and stuck to the main path, but I do plan to return and roam more freely next time.

Lucky for Yu–cue cymbal crash sound effect–the space station you are on was designed to also research and produce Neuromods, which go right into your eyeball to help make humans faster, stronger, and smarter. These are where you get your skill points from, to upgrade powers and unlock abilities, and you can find several around the environment, but what I found refreshing is, if you want and have the crafting resources to do so, you can make as many as you want through the Recylcer and Fabricator. It almost felt like cheating when I 3D-printed three of them in a single sitting (light spoiler detail: there will be a moment in the story where you can’t do this anymore for reasons, so strike while the iron is hot). My playstyle so far has been mostly human powers, like hacking and gaining more health from kits and food, with a light touch of aliens powers, specifically Mimic and Kinetic Blast. I like being able to repair broken turrets though they now see me as an alien threat since I’ve unlocked too many non-human perks. That was a neat surprise.

Life in Prey is harsh, tough. The might sound obvious when discussing a space station amuck with telekinetic and transforming monsters that want to eat your flesh and soul, but I thought I’d say it anyway, to justify to myself very soon that it is fine to dial down the difficulty setting. I’m currently playing on whatever the default it is, and I’m trying to play it like I would Fallout 4–stealthily, sneakily, avoiding as many fights as possible. Unfortunately, you will have to get your hands dirty eventually, and this is where I struggled with the combat. The guns don’t feel great, even after updating my silenced pistol a bunch, and they clearly want you to use the GLOO cannon to slow everything down and whack it with a wrench, but that’s easier said than done when the enemies move far more swiftly than you. Health and suit armor drops quickly, and resources, so far, are extremely limited. Occasionally, I’ve had to sneak by enemies through creative means, like throwing items for distraction or turning into a banana. Yup, you read that last part right.

I’m near the end of Morgan’s quest. Still, whenever I am done with Prey, whatever that means since I may be curious in a second playthrough on the easiest of difficulty settings to see what life is like with, say, only alien powers or doing my best to read every single e-mail I can find, I think I might need to revisit System Shock and give it a fairer shake than trying to play it when extremely sleepy during an Extra Life stream. Or System Shock 2. Or Dishonored. Or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Look, I have a lot of immersive sims on plate, so I better start feasting.

Watch Shantae whip and save Sequin Land from evil pirates

gd impressions shantae pirate's curse

I’ve never played a Shantae game, so I thought that, naturally, the best place to start is with Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, the third game in the series. Naturally. Look, it’s the only one I have in my entire collection, and I’d rather start somewhere than deal with the silly impairment in my brain that demands I begin all videogame series at the very start and only play through them one after the other, completing each one as fully as possible to truly get the ultimate gaming experience. It’s an exhausting, never-ending battle that I’d love to watch crumble and blow away in the wind, but that day is not yet on the horizon. Or is it? I mean, this is a small chip in the mountain, but I am at least taking action.

The story in Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse sure is something, and I’ll do my best to get all the whimsical details right. So, Shantae is adjusting to life as a human post-genie, but wakes up to the sound of cannon fire one morning. Turns out, Scuttle Town is being taken over by the Ammo Baron, who, after a brief scuffle, reveals that he purchased the town from Mayor Scuttlebutt and is legally now its new mayor. Shantae’s arch-nemesis Risky Boots accuses her of robbing her of henchmen and other valuable items, but now they are teaming up to take on the Pirate Master, a powerful evil tyrant who is attempting to revive himself while simultaneously placing a curse on many of the world’s critters. Yeah, sure. To stop this all from happening, Shantae needs to destroy a specific number of dens of evil because videogames.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is one of those Metroidvania, 2D action side-scrollers you have all probably heard about by this point in time, though I’m still having a hard time deciding if it is more Metroid or more Castlevania. Its whimsical story and goofy sense of humor makes it hard to place in either category, plus those sultry sprite animations. Instead of whipping a whip at enemies, Shantae whips her hair with extreme force. She can also jump, dash backwards, perform a super kick, and fire a pistol shot, resulting in a versatile action heroine capable of handling whatever is thrown at her, whether it be frog fish, wetmen, or cacklers. Basically, this is all one needs to complete dungeon puzzles and open up new areas of the world to explore. You also have an inventory, and this is where potions, monster milk, and bento boxes go, all of which are easily accessible via the touchscreen on the Wii U gamepad…though I prefer to leave it on the map screen for quick navigation.

So far, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a good platformer that I am playing in short bursts, like between big moments in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or while waiting for that latest Nintendo Direct to start. There’s always progress to be made and, if not, I’m okay grinding for money so I can purchase new moves for Shantae. Though I am finding the number of enemies that magically pop up/appear right before Shantae and damage her to be ultra annoying. Also, in the second level, there is a sequence that involves carrying Shantae’s zombie friend Rottytops through a monster-infested forest where a single collision means death. It mixes up the gameplay, but the penalty for messing up and ramp in difficulty is surprisingly, especially so early on in the game.

I’ve put in under two hours so far into Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, and the Internet is telling me that it is about eight hours or so to complete the main campaign, with a few more to boot if one wants to gather all the squid hearts and hidden collectibles. Here’s hoping I stick with it a bit longer to see credits roll because I am enjoying it though it is not the second coming of Super Metroid. I’m not sure if anything ever will be.

Dungeon of Zolthan’s classic platforming mechanics are the sum of life

gd-impressions-dungeon-of-zolthan

As I’m wont to do, I didn’t go crazy for the latest Steam Winter Sale, especially considering the number of games still untouched in my digital library, a travesty I swear I’m working on for 2017, though the gamble is whether or not I’ll be successful. Well, shortly before that glittery ball dropped in Times Square and Mariah Carey fake-sung her last tune, indicating the official transition from one year to the next, I made a single gulp purchase of small games for a total that came in just under ten dollars. That’s a record high for me. Anyways, here’s what I got for those curious about what I got:

  • Deus Ex: Invisible War
  • LucasArts Adventure Pack (this includes Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Loom, and The Dig)
  • Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4
  • The Silent Age
  • PulseCharge
  • Dead6hot
  • Broken Dreams
  • Dungeon of Zolthan
  • Reset 1-1

Part of me is surprised that I haven’t immediately loaded up Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4 to see what that Australian devil is all about in this new day and age of endless runners considering my affection for the series (well, really just that first game). And yes, you can belly-laugh until hurts that there’s affection here for a game set on a fictitious Australian island about collecting “Thunder Eggs” and stopping the evil cassowary Boss Cass from being, y’know, even more evil; really, it just reminds me of long-gone snowy college days, of being trapped inside a third-floor dorm with not much else to do but toil away at things like Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, instead of working on that journalism degree.

Well, I’m not here to talk about the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Nope. This post is all about Dungeon of Zolthan, which was part of the Platformer Bundle by New Reality Games. Visually, it stood out to me from the others listed above due to its limited color scheme and retro graphics. I know that’s basically one-fourth of all indie platforming games on Steam these days, but it is a jam I enjoy on toasted bread and like eating. Not that I get to eat toast with jam on it much lately. I also relish some challenge, though not too much, as I’m not a masochist who gets a rise from dying over and over again. Somewhere in the range of Tiny Barbarian and You Have to Win the Game is just fine.

Dungeon of Zolthan seems to dance on the line between casual and hardcore. You can play it either way, your call. It’s an arcade-style Metroidvania platformer light on puzzles and starring a little green block with legs, eyes, and a mouth, determined to defeat the powerful mage Zolthan that lives inside the dungeon. That’s all the story I’ve gotten so far, and it is more than enough as a goal. As you move from room to room, you’ll acquire power-ups, like double jumping and dashing across gaps, as well as battle mid-bosses. I’m not sure how this fella holds the gun he is carrying, but it doesn’t matter. You can take your time exploring, finding all the hidden power-ups and extra hearts or you can make a mad dash to defeat all the bosses as quickly as possible, with as little extra help as you think necessary. The game itself is pretty forgiving, dropping save points that also restore your health bar all over the place, and the early difficulty curve is lessened once you get the hang of jumping, shooting, and dashing around. Personally, I’m not wasting a lot of time on shooting enemies and am finding more fun in generally avoiding them altogether.

According to the Achievements list, I’m halfway through this dungeon, with two more bosses to battle. Alas, I don’t think I’ll be earning those speedrunning-related Achievements (beat in 40 minutes or 20 minutes or less), as I’ve definitely already logged more time than necessary because I left the game running while making dinner in the kitchen. Oh well. It’s okay. I’ll save the speedrunning for someone else, though I’ll gladly watch them do it later if Dungeon of Zolthan ever shows up in Awesome Games Done Quick. Until then, may your indie platformers be unapologetically old-school.

Y’know, you have to explore the darkness to move forward in Lampshade

lampshade gd indie game impressions

I recently got a ring in Stardew Valley that emits a small circle of light around my character, which makes exploring the dimmer parts of the mines much easier, especially for my old man eyes. Thankfully, it’s not my only source of light, and it plays a super tiny role in the grand scheme of raiding a mine for resources that you can sell or use back at your house to help fill out those progression-essential Community Center bundles. Wait, I’m not here to talk once more about Perdido Farm. Certainly not until I get through my first winter, at least. This post is about Lampshade from Mister No Wind’s Studio, where you are, more or less, the only source of light, which makes navigating through a dark, labyrinthine cave all the more troublesome. Step by step, as the song goes.

Lampshade tells the story of a nameless woman–let’s call her Lamprini–who must travel through some mysterious, dark cave across six different chapters…for one reason or another. It’s not explicitly said, and the things that are said are said slathered in lyricism and pretentiousness. This is an odd retro world full of platforms and dangerous spikes, but also glitches and strange, old men and rules that are meant to be broken. Also, ghosts that affect your vision upon contact. Every chapter switches things up, and so the simple platforming found in the first chapter becomes hindered by total darkness in chapter two and then completely bonkers after that, with the edges of the screen no longer predictable as merely edges of a screen. It reminds me, as many things often do, of Fez, of Persist.

I’ve had to write some stuff down for Lampshade. I suspect many other players did too, unless they have the mind of three elephants combined. In which case I don’t know if they need to go to the hospital or a museum first. Right, writing. It’s a good thing I like writing because the notes-taking for this under-lit adventure feels…wholly unnecessary. Sure, it is necessary for me to map out where to jump on platforms in pure blackness, but it’s not like the path changes every time I die or if it is even different for other players in their game. It’s the same road, just hidden, and that I guess equates to puzzle platforming. The challenge comes from not being able to see, but that twist doesn’t make it a lot of fun to play.

By the way, Lampshade is played in a browser, using only the arrow keys. Up jumps, and left and right move Lamprini around the level. However, the longer you hold the up key, the higher she jumps. You can use this to your advantage to master hopping up stair-like platforms, but I still found myself losing control of her and missing a landing here and there. Or simply walking off a ledge. You’ll occasionally need to pause in front of lamps, which will reveal the entirety of the screen until you move away from them, leaving you to your memory and platforming skills. Sometimes you have to traverse across several screens before getting to the one you are supposed to have memorized, which can test your total recall ability.

Chapter 4 of Lampshade is most likely where many will walk away or rage quit. I certainly did…of the former. Despite giving you a map, which tells you very little actually other than what square cube you are in…in relation to the other square cubes, you are forced to replay many sections of the level if you make a single mistake towards the end in terms of where you jump and how you land. Naturally, you don’t know this the first time going into it, and so you’ll mess up and feel punished. It’s a cheap means to stretch out the gameplay in the middle, to ask a lot of a player already giving up things like eye-sight and security.

By all means, give it a go yourself. Do let me know what the last few chapters are all about and whether Lamprini ever sees the light of day. I don’t have a lot of faith that she does.

Kram Keep is a tiny yet towering take on Metroidvania

kram keep overall impressions gd

In a different life, one where maybe I didn’t try to have a career or binge-watch TV shows via Netflix or sleep or, heavens no, make a name for myself through art and writing, I’d be covering every Ludum Dare that happened, deeply examining all the themed creations, whether they got voted highly or not. Alas, that is not me. Instead, I kind of stumble across a Ludum Dare jam game months or even years after it was born. Well, with the topic du jour, I’m not terribly late, seeing that Ludum Dare 31 went down back in early December 2014, its jam theme being “Entire Game on One Screen.”

Kram Keep certainly meets that requirement. It’s the age-old classic tale of a blue-haired vampire hunter, a massively large castle full of traps and projectile-shooting enemies, and an evil master at its top, awaiting your blood. It’s a Metroidvania-style game, stuck on a single screen, meaning you can press the Shift key at any time to zoom out the map all the way and see everywhere you’ll eventually be going; I liked this, as it proved useful in guiding me to the next area, as well as keeping me informed about what was to come and the locations of vital power-ups. If anything, this seems sides more with the vania part than Metroid, but it is hard to say. As you go, you can collect hearts to increase your life bar, but you really want those special abilities–wall jump, double jump, and spread projectiles–if you are going to make any significant progress. Little crosses act as both checkpoints and health refills.

There were perhaps two or three tricky spots in Kram Keep that involved precise wall jump timing, and using the letter X and the arrow directions on the keyboard complicated things. As always, I prefer my platformers with a controller in hand, but sometimes you aren’t allotted such a benefit. In truth, where I needed a controller the most, was against the final boss. He has a pattern, so it eventually comes down to memorization and quick reflexes, but I still managed to put him six feet under with only a sliver of health left. Once you kill him, spoilers, much like with the end of Super Metroid, you have a limited amount of time to escape the castle, which means reversing the way you came in, though some routes are now closed off; I failed it the first time, but by hitting continue on the main menu, you can give it another go, and from what I can tell, it only changes a small part of the credits. Overall, the experience is tough, but fun, something I’d definitely recommend platforming fans to check out.

Since I love statistics and games that spit them out at the end of your run, here are my final, less-than-impressive tallies for Kram Keep:

  • Time played: 0:42:51
  • Deaths: 52
  • Enemies killed: 160
  • Crystal Hearts: 5/8
  • Difficulty: Normal

Ludum Dare 32 is coming up in the middle of April, though there’s no listed theme just yet. Until then, I think I’ll snoop around a bit more in Ludum Dare 31‘s entries, as I’m almost positive there are a bunch more innovative takes on the “single screen only” theme. Hopefully I can find a few other titles to highlight like Kram Keep, that do a lot with very little.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #24 – Kram Keep

2015 gd games completed kram keep

Bloodsucking menace
Waits at the top of this keep
Collect powers, kill

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.