Tag Archives: Metroidvania

The hostile inhabitants of Yamatai have nothing on this Tomb Raider

tomb raider crash impressions

As you all know, I have a sickness, and that somewhat imaginary disease is downloading videogames–both free and paid for–and then not doing anything with them for a very long time. Actually, this also applies occasionally to retail products, seeing as I got both Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story back in October 2013 and have yet to even crack their cases. Sure, I’ll install a game on Steam and check to make sure it runs, but that’s as deep as I go sometimes. I mean, really…there are moments where I feel catastrophically overwhelmed with content to consume, considering I get a free game a week on PlayStation 3 thanks to PlayStation Plus, two games a month for being an Xbox 360 Gold member, and countless titles on the PC from bundles or cases of freeware.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I fought back this week and immediately began playing Tomb Raider after it finished downloading–and installing further after that–and boy howdy, I’m pleased with the results. It’s one of March’s free games, along with Thomas Was Alone and Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut, and it’s actually only the second “traditional” tomb raiding game starring Lara Croft that I’ve played. Yup, I’ve played the original 1996 release–and beat it multiple times–as well dabbled with the co-op-focused Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and now this 2013 reboot of the series. That’s it. A couple of the games in-between 1996 and 2013 did pique my interest, but many also seemed too unnecessary and too far from form, like when Lara was running around the Natural History Museum in London.

Strangely, while this new Tomb Raider is most definitely a reboot, it’s both close to form and far from it, as the focus is much more on QTE-lead action sequences and firefights than exploration, though some of that stuff is in there via optional tombs. The fact that the best aspect of an Indiana Jones-like videogame series is now partioned off to something secondary and missable is extremely depressing. But otherwise, I’m really enjoying it. My save slot says that I’m a wee bit past the halfway mark, and I’m focusing mostly on just moving from story beat to story beat, saving many of the collectibles for later after I’ve earned all the vital Metroidvania-inspired weapons which will give me access to hidden areas and such.

Well, here’s how a reworked Tomb Raider story takes shape in the current day and age: Lara Croft, an ambitious archaeology graduate with theories on where the location of the lost kingdom of Yamatai is, has convinced the Nishimura family—descendants from the Yamatai—to fund an expedition in search of the kingdom. The expedition eventually ventures into the Dragon’s Triangle, east of Japan, but the ship is suddenly struck by a violent storm and shipwrecked, leaving the survivors stranded all across an isolated island. Well, maybe not as isolated as initially expected, as Lara begins searching for her friends and stumbles across other inhabitants and a trend for nasty shipwrecks and plane crashes. No longer is Lara simply a rich archaeologist out for personal gain; she is young, naive, fragile, acting out of instinct rather than planned aggression, and it works…for the most part. That is, until it becomes a videogame again.

While billed as open-world gameplay, Tomb Raider is surprisingly linear, with sections of the map broken up by hidden loading sequences of Lara crawling under something or through a stretch of cave. Once in a section, there is some room to explore and find XP-giving collectibles, salvage, and crates of ammo, but the story path is always straightforward, from one place to another, and there’s usually no chance to tackle a scenario in a different manner. Much like in Mass Effect, you’ll arrive in areas where you’ll instantly know a shootout is about to go down, given the number of cover pieces and layout. Despite being all sad about killing a deer and reluctant to fire a weapon anymore, Lara Croft is a killing machine. An absolute sociopath when it comes to QTE kills and arrows to the head. Sadly, a lot of the gunfire moments force you to constantly keep Lara behind some kind of cover, so a lot of the melee moves and shotgun blasts are not utilized. But the bow is pretty awesome, especially once you can start lighting your arrows aflame.

I do have more to say about the distinct disconnect between Tomb Raider‘s story and its gameplay, but might save that for another post. I mean, you can’t watch Lara grimace at gutting a deer for food when she goes on in the next scene to choking a man out with her bow string, especially when you later realize that “food” is not a game concept and literally do not have to kill any other non-aggressive animals for the entire game. Ugh. Like I said, I got thoughts.

Oh, and there’s online multiplayer. Which I’ve not touched, and most likely won’t touch once I’m done with the story and finding the remainder of the trinkets, journal entries, and weapon-upgrading items left on the map. Looks uninteresting. No biggie, kids. That’s not what Tomb Raider is about, unless there’s a mode where you are each trying to grab a single item first before others get to it. No, no, not Capture the Flag. More like…Capture the Priceless Ancient Totem and Deliver it to the Museum for Zero Dollars but Some Career-pushing Recognition. Yeah, I’ll play that.

The Half-hour Hitbox: February 2014

halfhour hitbox gd feb 2014 post image

Ahh, February–the shortest month of the year. As well as the snowiest, at least for 2014, that is. Last year we barely saw any snow, and this year we’re quadrupling down on that cause, and I have to be honest. I’m done. Truly and terribly. No quibbles about it. I’m tired of my car getting stuck in the snow, I’m tired of shoveling snow, I’m tired of walking like a penguin so as to not fall in the snow, and I’m tired of hearing nearly every day on the radio about the potential coming of even more snow. I really don’t mind cold weather, as I’m all about layering and being warm, but there’s a difference between cold weather and stress-inducing snow. Bring on March and green grass and the chance to not wear socks in the house. My body is ready.

That said, here’s a handful of games I played a little bit of this month.

Lyle in Cube Sector

lyle01

This little indie thing from 2006 is self-described as a block-throwing action adventure game, and that’s exactly what it is. Lyle’s kitty cat has been stolen by some robed witch, and he’s off to rescue his furry feline. Unlike other Metroidvania games, Lyle doesn’t have a weapon–no whip, no gun, nothing. All he can really do is pick up blocks and throw them. Sometimes this is done to damage enemies, and other times it is to create a path from point A to point B. I had trouble balancing the timing of avoiding incoming enemies and picking up blocks, meaning I didn’t get very far, but it seems like an overall good package. You can grab Lyle in Cube Sector for free over here.

Under the Garden

undergar3a

Right. In this open-ended indie survival game, you are out in the middle of the wild nowhere, tasked with staying alive. You’ll need to eat, create shelter, find fire and essential tools, and so on. A bit like Minecraft, but the controls are kind of iffy. I ended up surviving for around 15 days or so, but gave up playing when I reached a part where you have to cross a body of water on floating crates, and the physics of everything coupled with the janky jumping proved too much. Without exploring, you just end up spending a lot of time standing around, waiting for something to happen. Most often, nothing does.

Pale Machine

pale

More like an interactive music video, Pale Machine is kooky and crazy and completely worth the five or so minutes to go through it. You’ll do ordinary things, like brush your teeth, but also rock potted plants back and forth and stick your tongue out very far to cause some cereal-based chaos. The song is peppy and bounces around from mini scene to mini scene, which means you’re not doing any one specific action for too long. In fact, I played through Pale Machine a second time while writing this little blurb up, and it’s still a bunch of uninhibited fun.

Maverick Bird

maverick bird 11 Capture

Terry Cavanagh strikes again! Maverick Bird is a fan game for the much-talked about Flappy Bird, and though I can’t say much about the game that this draws inspiration from–remember, I have a Windows 8 phone–the concept is simple, but so very addicting. In Maverick Bird, you are…well, a diamond-shaped being, and you can fly up using the up arrow and dive down with the down arrow. You never stop moving, and so the goal is to see how far you get without hitting any walls or traps. It’s tough, but I like it, though I turned the music off right away. Despite the screenshot above, my highest score so far has actually been…17. Take that!

Monaco – What’s Yours is Mine

monaco ss_333a0b3b78041a533e592457d9e1f7882d5a7ae9.1920x1080

Yup, I bought the newest Humble Bundle, and got a handful of new indie games to play. So far, while I’ve installed all of them, I’ve only loaded up one, and that’s Monaco – What’s Yours is Mine, a strange title for a stealthy game about…well, cooperative stealth? I really don’t know. There’s some light story setup in the beginning about breaking a fella called The Mole out of prison, but that’s all I recall at this point. I like the aesthetics very much in this and the retro-ish graphics, though it’ll take me some time to get used to the lack of vision and fog of war. Lockpicking feels good, having you press against a door or computer for a short period of time to pick it. Rubbing ain’t picking.

Galaga Legions DX

Galaga-legions

I was drinking a hot toddy and getting buzzed and thought this would be funny–not fun–to experience a little on the tipsy side. Turns out, I was right. Maybe. Hmm, maybe not. I had no idea what I experienced. I was a spaceship, and I shot bullets, and a blizzard of colorful lights and objects filled the screen, and there was some crazy music bumping in the background, and I did this for a little bit until I cleared the first section of levels. Most likely never going back.

Payday 2

Payday-2-3

Hmm…this game is described as so:  an action-packed, four-player co-op shooter that has players donning the masks of the original PayDay crew–Dallas, Hoxton, Wolf, and Chains–as they descend on Washington D.C. for an epic crime spree. That may all be very true, but I still can’t get past the first mission, and if one can’t successfully pull off a jewelry heist, well…maybe a life of crime is not the right path to walk. My problem is someone in the store notices what’s going on too quickly, and I don’t yet know how to corral everyone away from the bank-opening action without alerting them or the cops.

The Half-hour Hitbox is a new monthly feature for Grinding Down, covering a handful of videogames that I’ve only gotten to play for less than an hour so far. My hopes in doing this is to remind myself that I played a wee bit of these games at one time or another, and I should hop back into them, if I liked that first bite.

The deep, beautiful dark of Knytt Underground

knytt underground early thoughts chpt 3

I couldn’t tell you when Knytt Underground got added to my long list of untouched PlayStation 3 games, but it did at some point. Thanks to PlayStation Plus, of course, a service that lets me download a high number of titles to collect digital dust until I randomly decide to play them or am inspired by an outside source to see what the deal is. This time around, I was inspired, greatly so, and we can look to Matt Mason’s posts over at Obtain Potion for the push, specifically Living Under a Rock and Let’s Find Another Deux Machina, as I really had no idea what Kyntt Underground was for the longest time. I figured it was some indie puzzle game, and it definitely is that–but so much more.

At its most basic form, Knytt Underground is about subterranean exploration. You play as a young woman called Mi Sprocket who is mysteriously mute, as well as, eventually, Bob, a magical bouncing ball. Naturally, the two characters play very differently from each other; you use Mi to climb up/down walls, and Bob can bounce around the room and reach previously unattainable areas, as well as tether himself to certain robots. For Bob, it’s all about physics, and sometimes that can be a bit tricky to master, especially when a single bounce can send you zooming across the screen, possibly to a new area, before you even have a moment to react. The game is split into three chapters and an interlude, with chapter one focusing on getting Mi to the fairy village and chapter two focusing on becoming Bob and learning what he can do. Chapter three seems to be the real meat of the game and is both awesome and intimidating.

See, it’s easy to get lost in Knytt Underground, both metaphorically and literally. There are a lot of rooms to explore, with a number of exits, and while some of them are simply dark, narrow corridors to run through, others are expansive openings, with high ceilings that any spelunker would love and, more times than not, something absolutely stunning to look at in the background. Take the purple forest, for instance. The first time I arrived there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was underground, and yet here is this string of large trees, swaying in a reddish-purple haze, dancing with the cavern wind. It got a little Inception-like there, this other world in this other world, and I just stood there, unmoving, absorbing it all. Other backgrounds are just as gorgeous, with plant life literally glowing in the darkness, lava that looks devilishly hot, and mushrooms that look too beautiful to eat.

However, something about Knytt Underground has me greatly conflicted. Really, I’m just not sure how I feel about it. It’s a stunningly gorgeous game, rife with bright and vibrant flora, the kind of nature you’d expect to see examined in close detail on the newest BBC documentary about the planet Earth, all backed by a soft, ambient soundtrack of rushing waterfalls, dripping ceilings, and gentle breezes. Yet..it’s goofy. The characters are silly and look like someone’s first attempt at webcomic art in the early 2000s, and the things they say are inane, such as obscure discussions about the Internet. I’m namely talking about the two fairies that accompany Mi after you reach the village and speak for her during her muteness. Visually, it’s extremely jarring. Tonally, too, though I suspect something is trying to be said here. Also, most of the quests you take on are pointless, with Mi going to great lengths to find certain people or keys for locked doors only for it all not to matter; the person you were looking for already returned home, and the door magically opened by itself.

At this point, I’ve dabbled in chapter three for only a bit, but eventually felt overwhelmed, especially considering the size of the map is roughly ten times that of the previous chapters. I mean, I can see areas highlighted in red on the map as places of interest to go–most likely these are the bells that Mi needs to ring to stop the apocalypse–but getting there isn’t a simple hike. You have to now use both Mi and Bob the ball in combination to reach new pathways, and sometimes doing that can be a lot of trial and error. I’m sure I’ll pop back into this visually stunning underground realm soon enough, but I need a little breather in the meantime.

Flipping and flopping in VVVVVV

vvvvvv outdoors2

I had to double-check, but I don’t think I’ve written about playing VVVVVV on the Nintendo 3DS yet. Sure, I excitedly put down some words when it was announced that it was coming to the little-handheld-that-could, but that doesn’t really do the thing justice, as that was more about me moving from playing a control-heavy puzzle platformer on my lackluster Mac’s mouse and keyboard to on something a bit more viable, like the Nintendo 3DS. Yes, I like jumping by pushing a button, not clicking a mouse; don’t sue me. Though, in VVVVVV‘s case, it’s more like flipping than jumping.

I’ll do y’all a solid and re-summarize the short, but sturdy story: Captain Viridian has to both save a dimension on the brink of collapse and find his spaceship’s missing crew members–all of whose names begin with the letter V. There’s six of ’em. See the connection to the game’s title yet? No? Well, just keep trying, and remember that it’s always good to have goals. Anyways, you save friends and the dimension by having Captain Viridian traverse around a somewhat Metroidvania-like map, flipping to the ceiling and across moving platforms and avoiding deadly spikes and getting lost. A retro-inspired chiptune soundtrack fuels the wind beneath Viridian’s feet as you explore space and the weird rooms and buildings filling in the gaps.

I’ve definitely gotten farther playing VVVVVV on the 3DS than the computer, and that’s to say that I’ve rescued a total of four out of the six lost crew members, as well as found three trinkets (out of twenty), which I’m not actively hunting down. Flipping gravity on its head is a simple button press, but there have been a few tough spots that have taken time and practice to nail perfectly, especially when the levels move and you can’t see what is ahead of you before you jump; thankfully, just like in Super Meat Boy, death is quick, and the music never stops, so you always feel like you’re progressing, even if you’re technically not. It definitely helps to keep you in the game, as a long death and reload animation would have been both cumbersome and off-putting. Instead, you just get up and try again.

However, I’ve reached my “stuck” point, and that is the levels called “Do As I Say” and “Not As I Do”, which involve Captain Viridian leading a found crew member to, hopefully, a teleporter that will bring them back to the ship’s control room. Unfortunately, any time Captain Viridian is standing on the ground, the crew member will walk over to him, and you have to lead them across moving platforms and over spikes–and it is no easy thang. I watched someone on YouTube do it in about 45 seconds, but I spent about ten minutes alone going at it, only to frustratingly give up and turn the 3DS off before I threw it in a blender and went to Smoothie Town.

As with my recent roadblock in Mutant Mudds, I’ll just put the game aside for a bit and come back to it later with a clean aura. Only two more crew members to save, and one is currently following me around. That has to mean I’m close to the end, right? Well, time will tell, unless I can’t get past this part, in which case I’ll just have to track down that person on YouTube, invite them over for dinner,  beg them to do it for me, and the shove them in a special barrel and dissolve them into goo so no one will ever know….oh, sorry about that last part. Been catching up on Breaking Bad, you see. I would never do that. But the problem is that I can’t go back and explore more of the map until this part is complete, so it really is this or never seeing any more of VVVVVV, which would be a bummer.

My serious complex with Shadow Complex

ocd shadow complex final achievement

We all have our neurotic moments, and one of mine took place over the weekend. See, I am still operating under the very same Xbox 360 that I pinched pennies for and bought way back in 2008/2009. That 360 came with an internal 20 GB hard drive, which, thanks to downloadable games and saves and countless patches, has been filling up over the passing years at a steady clip. It’s nearly full, and I’ve had to reformat an external hard drive I wasn’t using to be able to download some other stuff. That “Gaming With Gold” program has steadily provided me with a new free game every two weeks now, and some are big boys, ranging from 6 to 8 GBs. The point is this: there are several games in my collection that I am done with–or nearly done with or haven’t touched in years or don’t even remember or can confirm in my brain that they were a once and only once kind of experience–and to make space…well, it’s deleting time. See ya, Limbo, Bastion, and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom; it’s been real.

And I was almost ready to remove Shadow Complex without blinking before I realized that I was just one Achievement away from having unlocked them all. According to the “Serious Complex” Achievement, all I had to do was level up to 50. Hmm. That sounds easy enough, and I wondered why I hadn’t, as, during Shadow Complex‘s time, I ate that game up. Pretty sure I completed it at least three times. After loading up my last save, I discovered I was sitting pretty at LV 45 and playing on Hardcore difficulty. That meant…well, only five more levels to go. Totally do-able. I could totally do that, I told myself rationally, and then I’d have all the Achievements and could erase the game from my 360 knowing fully that I experienced that game fully before it disappeared. Remember, I owned up to all this crazy at the start of this post: my neurosis.

It was not an easy climb to the top, surprisingly. But I guess it never really is. Shadow Complex‘s Hardcore difficulty means you lose a lot more health when shot by enemy soldiers and don’t gain back as much from health packs. I don’t have to worry about ammo as I have a lot of infinite perks already unlocked. It took me a while to get used to the controls again, as well as reacquaint myself with the sprawling, color-coded map. There was a lot of wandering to and fro, finding unneeded collectibles and some boss encounters and remembering how fun it is to run super fast from one side of the map to the other. I died a lot, and I gained a trivial amount of XP along the way. Like, pennies and nickels. That is, until I found an exploit, which helped me gain the final two levels in maybe 15 minutes or so.

At the top of the map, a little ways off from where you fight the final battle, you can gain a MAX BONUS for XP by punching seven or eight soldiers in a row and then exploding some kind of war-robot by launching a missile up its metallic butt. This nets you a really good size chunk of XP, and there’s a Save Room right near the area. So what I did was make my run, get the XP, save, reload my last save, and do the run again, save, reload, and so on and so on. It’s simple and boring and kind of has to be perfectly timed, but it worked and was a better XP guarantee than just plodding around, room to room, popping a soldier here and there and watching that XP turtle forward.

And then the Achievement popped, allowing me to add Shadow Complex to my list of green-starred names over there in sidebar county. I exhaled, checked a few things…and then deleted the game from my hard drive. It was fun going back for a bit to this modern Metroidvania, and the game still plays fantastically, but at this point, I’ve now seen nearly everything from the game. I beat it with 100% of the items and with 13% of the items. I beat it fast, I completed it slow, I unearthed everything. I played with the hook-shot and found ways around enemies, I kicked a lot of spiderbots, and I tried out all the golden weapons. This is just basically me justifying to myself that I did all that I could with the game, and that there was no reason to keep it on the system, when other games, like Clash of Heroes, needed the space.

I suspect this sort of OCD is going to come into play with a few more titles on my Xbox 360, such as Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge and Torchlight, as they both only have one Achievement left to unlock, both attainable, but, just like with “Serious Complex,” might take some time. Some pre-planning. We’ll see when I turn neurotic next.

A maze of magic mirrors in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

kirby and the amazing mirror GBA impressions

Well, we can add Kirby and the Amazing Mirror to the list of games with maps that I absolutely hate. Others on that list include Fez, LEGO Lord of the Rings, and Fable II, if you’re curious. For good maps, check out Costume Quest or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and love how easy they are navigate. Also, Minecraft.

A map should be both functional and follow-able, a handy accessory to help with one’s journey. For maps, I like to see markers for special spots and things to do, as well as the ability to place my own destination marker. Also, show me what direction I’m walking in or facing at, not just where I am currently standing. For 3D realms, seeing which direction I’m facing is vital to knowing where to continue heading forward or side-stepping to the left instead. Without that help, it’s just aimless wandering. Unfortunately, the map in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is beginning to feel like the type that requires a long and detailed review of maps to ensure that all rooms and paths have been taken.

If you skip the little intro cutscene for Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, you miss nearly all the story beats. Which I did in my eagerness to begin playing. Oopsie. Evidently, here is what is happening: a sinister presence has invaded the Mirror World, which sits high and mighty above Dream World, and all the mirrors are now reflecting bad things. Meta Knight goes off to fix things, eventually disappearing in the process. Later, Kirby is attacked by a shadow Meta Knight, splitting our friendly pink puffball into four. They all then hop on a  Warpstar to chase after him. And that’s all the set up you get.

It plays like every other Kirby videogame, with you sucking enemies into Kirby’s mouth and eating them to gain powers, like lasers, swords, stone, and Cupid. You can puff yourself up to fly and shoot little things of air. Also, um, you have a…cell phone, which you can use to teleport you back to the mirror hub level or call in help from your colored counterparts. You traverse levels going from left to right, right to left, down to up, and sometimes from up to down. Everywhere you go, there are mirrors, which are doorways to other levels, and many of them are hidden or locked behind a barrier that requires the right power Metroidvania style to access. Alas, this means pre-planning and carefully keeping your power from several levels prior, which I’m bad at. It’s not difficult gameplay, just the kind that requires a lot of back and forth and awareness. Also, bosses I’ve fought so far include a lightning cloud and angry tree. So, y’know…Kirby.

If hopping in and out of mirrors isn’t your thing, there’s also three minigames in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. They are cute, but you’ll play them once, see what they are about, and never go back. At least, that’s what I did. They all require a single button press. In Speed Eaters, you wait for a pan to reveal whether it has apples or bombs; if it’s the former, press A before any other Kirby, and you get the apples. Fill up your hunger meter first to win. Crackity Hack has you powering up a super punch to break a crack in the ground, seeing if you can go the farthest. Lastly, Kirby’s Wave Ride has you surfing and catching waves for speed bonuses. Again, they are exactly what they are called: mini-games. Nothing more, nothing less.

Right now, I’m around 17% complete, with two mirror shards found and put back into place. Gotta hop back through some mirror gates with the right powers on Kirby to find more. I wish you could at least store a second power somewhere. Like, deep within Kirby’s cheeks, hamster-style. Think about it. Oh well.

The story of a robot boy in a cave and an evil doctor killing rabbit-like humanoids

Unfortunately, I did not get to participate in the Indie Impression for Cave Story+ as I was, at that time, an insane man, trying to pack for MegaCon 2012 and make sure I had all things with my minicomics straightened out before leaving for Florida or else I’d be totally boned. Which stinks, as I have played it both on my laptop (with and without a gamepad) and on my Nintendo 3DS and definitely have a few thoughts on the little indie darling that could, but now they go here, instead of over there. Right, well, time to level up and share some words…

Cave Story+ is surprisingly simple, and it’s surprising in how many times it surprises you. As the game’s  title implies, there’s a story here, and it does a great job of presenting emotion via the varied portraits of Mimigas. Seems like a girl named Sue is missing and you, a baseball cap-wearing robot who awakens in a cave, are off to find her. Along the way, you’ll learn of an evil doctor who is terrorizing the local village and killing rabbit people with sickening glee. Stumbling across special moments seems natural, but whenever the game cuts back to the man locked in the room trying to instant message with his computer, it all slows down and feels iffy.

Gameplay is fluid and fast, with your little robotic hero leveling up and leveling down within seconds of one another thanks to the swarms of enemies that want to inflict damage and destruction upon your very body. On occasion, a jump might feel a little floaty, but otherwise, everything is crisp and can make for some crazy tense scenarios where you are just shooting at everything that moves while trying to reach a save room as quick as possible. As you kill enemies, they explode into experience points (or hearts or ammo), which will upgrade your current gun as you collect them, turning a wimpy pea shooter into something more deadly. This is an addicting hook for sure, and leveling down is like the worst thing in life.

Currently, our hero is on a mission to get some jellyfish goo for…somebody. Names are a little hard to remember in this game except for Sue. Don’t know why that is.

And now for some Achievements from Steam, many of which are basically freebies:


Pea Shooter: Obtained the Polar Star!


Don’t Get Lost: Obtained the Map System!


Wanna Fight?: Defeated Balrog!


A Gift from Santa: Obtained the Fireball!

I have to wonder if I’ll beat Cave Story+ first on my laptop or my 3DS, and whether or not I’ll beat it more than once. Seems like there’s multiple endings, and I do like multiple endings. Either way, it’s fun and easy to pick up, especially if you are somewhat familiar with Mega Man and/or Metroidvania romps; you just gotta pay attention as there are one-hit kill creatures and spikes all over the place, making every jump and maneuver essential for surviving.

30 Days of Gaming, #27 – Most epic scene ever

Hey, remember this meme? Me too. Actually, I did forget about it for a bit, seeing as the last update to it was way back in early August 2011. My bad. I can’t wait to count up how long it’s taken me to blog about 30 days’ worth of topics. Probably in the triple digits by now. Grinding Down has truly earned its namesake. To be honest, these last few topics are a bit of a struggle, all of them seemingly heavy-hitters in terms of constant forum topics and debates. Hopefully I can do them justice, but truthfully–I’m a little worried about my choices.

This is Super Metroid‘s second time appearing in the 30 Days of Gaming meme. The first was for the topic of “a game I’ve played more than five times,” which you can read about by clicking this clickity part.

To start, the last Metroid is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace. Until it’s not. Super Metroid begins by tilting this utopian idea on its side, with the Metroid larvae Samus brought to the Ceres Space Colony for researching being stolen by her nemesis Ridley. As she hurries back, she finds all the scientists dead. And she’ll be soon too if she doesn’t escape before the planet explodes. Narrowly missing the chance to become space particles, Samus then tracks Ridley to the planet Zebes. Ridley is the second-to-last boss, and despite his involvement in this whole mess, he’s not the show-stealer. No, not by a mile. Leave that honor to Mother Brain.

Good job, bounty hunter. You’ve made it to Tourian. This is Mother Brain’s base of operations, and it’s been relocated and rebuilt. Tread carefully. As you make your way closer to the end, you’ll pass former victims of the life-sucking Metroids; they crumble and turn to dust as Samus hurries past, a haunting image. But that’s only the beginning. You find Mother Brain, all encased and hooked up to too many tubes, just like in Metroid, and you blow her to bits, watching with glee as the machinery around her explodes and drops her to the floor, defeated, nothing more than a brain without a body. And then she gets up.

Clearly, it makes no sense how a pinkish lump of brainstuffs is able to grow out an entire dinosaur-like body like that, but it took me by surprise the first time nonetheless. I remember my own brain squirming in my skull, trying to find its own “grow a T-Rex body” switch and make sure it was set to OFF. Frightened, you launch every single rocket and super missile you have in your arsenal, relentless in your attack. And Samus is putting up quite a fight, dodging mouth-fire and bombs–but then Mother Brain hits her with an eye beam of stunning. Down she goes, forced to endure Mother Brain’s attacks as her health depletes block by block. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking to witness. Just before the end, when all seems hopeless and the final attack is being charged up, a Metroid swoops in to save Samus, sucking the life from Mother Brain. The Metroid then transfers her energy and powers to Samus, sacrificing herself in the cause. The remainder of the battle is a snap thanks to a kickass supercharged beam shot, and Mother Brain’s brain is disintegrating before you know it. No time to celebrate though; you have three minutes exactly to escape the planet before all is blown to bits.

What I love about this scene is how unexpected–and unpredicted–the Metroid’s saving swoop-in is. There’s no pausing, no jarring cutscene, no weird sounds like you’d get on a PlayStation when a FMV was readying to load; it’s all one fluid moment, filled with fluid movement, and the scene is nearly impossible to not watch. I remember thinking my controller was broken when I couldn’t get Samus to move after Mother Brain’s stun beam, and that sadness quickly turned to elation when I saw who had Samus’ back. One can only assume that this was the Metroid she had originally brought to the Ceres Space Colony.

This scene still resonates with me today, some fifteen-plus years later. That’s epic enough for me.

30 Days of Gaming, #13 – A game you’ve played more than five times

This is kind of a weirdly phrased topic. I mean, it seems like it wants to ask about a game you’ve beaten more than five times because honestly, I’m pretty sure I’ve played every videogame ever more than five times–as have you–save for Epic Mickey (cue sound effect). If that’s the case, I had a number of choices for today’s 30 Days of Gaming meme topic, most of them coming from the great house of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Suikoden to name a few.

However, I’m going with Super Metroid, a game I can’t pinpoint on the number of times I’ve completed, but it’s one that I return to consistently every few years and love revisiting. I’m so proud to still have this cartridge in my SNES collection; thank the stars above and below that I didn’t trade it in with all those other games I now regret living without.

Super Metroid thrives on exploration and discovery; without it, Samus would just be some ho-hum bounty hunter that hopped up and down platforms, shot enemies to pieces, and took down crazily unique bosses. Those aspects of Super Metroid are great and certainly nothing to sneeze at, but its everything else around them, the unknown padding if you will, that makes this truly a game worth coming back to again and again. It’s landing on Zebes in the rain and heading to the right to discover that, no, really, you need to be heading to the left. It’s making your way through Crateria, which, as a young boy, I always misread as Cafeteria, and getting chills from the dreary, silent mood thickening in the air above. It’s getting even more freaked out when Samus first arrives at the Wrecked Ship to drips and statue-still enemies. It’s that final boss fight, and the frantic rush thereafter; it’s going back to where it all started.

Every time I play through Super Metroid, I discover something new. Last time, it was reaching new areas with the Shinespark technique that I had previously thought were unreachable. Another time it was sinking through some quicksand to…not die, but end up in a hidden room. Long before that it was learning all the secret, chargeable special attacks. I can’t even imagine what other hidden goodies remain for my next romp through, but I’ll be sure to x-ray scan every wall possible and bomb whatever gets in the way.

Truth be told, I’d love a new version to pop up on the Nintendo 3DS, and considering there’s a 3D upgrade to a title like Excitebike…well, my dream isn’t too far-fetched. Until then, I’m just gonna roll up into a ball and wait.

Games Completed in 2011, #11 – Monster Tale

Metroidvania is a special genre of gaming. It’s both linear and not, it’s devoted to progression and secrets, and it’s been around since the venerable NES days. I mean, it’s very namesake comes from two of its most obvious influences: Metroid and Castlevania. Over the years, Metroidvania has seen some peaks and valleys and straight-up dry spells, never finding a wide audience, but there’s been a rebirth of sorts on handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS. Mostly more Castlevania titles, but there’s also been the occasional surprise debut, and that’s where we find Monster Tale from DreamRift, the makers of Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure.

In Monster Tale, you play as Ellie, a young girl who stumbles upon a magical armband, unhatched egg, and hidden world inhabited by monsters. She quickly discovers that she’s not the only human to venture into this world as it is ruled by snotty, personality-heavy kids, the worst being Priscilla. They have enslaved many of the monsters and turned them into their evil pets. The egg Ellie found earlier hatches, and the monster quickly bonds with our blue-haired protagonist, fighting off enemies, eating snacks, and evolving into more powerful forms. She names it Chomp, and he/she/it will be vital to her survival as she searches for a way back home.

Monster Tale is a mix of platforming, combat, and pet raising. You’ll travel through five themed worlds—a wicked treehouse and demon express train, for example—until you can’t travel forward any more; most likely, Ellie will need to learn a new ability like charge shot or obtain a key to open a locked gate. Unfortunately though, DreamRift is a wee bit masochistic and decided to make back-tracking a high priority here. Very high priority. Now, with Metroidvania games, back-tracking is the point; you get a new ability, and now you can get past X from that earlier level. However, the back-tracking in Monster Tale feels unnecessary, and often the item/power needed is on the far opposite side of the map. There’s no fast-travel system so Ellie and Chomp have to trudge all the way back; I was constantly checking the map so as to not get lost. It feels like something implemented to transform a four-hour game into an eight-hour game.

Good thing the combat is fun, especially thanks to Chomp. He/she/it is an adorable monster that helps attack enemies on both screens of the Nintendo DS. Chomp can’t spend too much time up top as it drains its health, but the bottom screen acts as a sanctuary, healing it and housing many special items for it to interact with. There’s some great animation work when it comes to Chomp chompin’ down on some cold pizza. As Chomp defeats enemies and eats entire bowls of rice, it gains XP and levels up, opening up new forms. I had him evolve into the Juggernaut by the end of the game and kept him there, but there’s plenty of other forms for people to tinker with if they’re curious. I only wish that Chomp was a little more proactive when on the top screen; it seemed like it wouldn’t attack an enemy unless Ellie personally chauffeured it over.

Story-wise, Monster Tale doesn’t ask too much of your attention. There’s small bits of dialogue between Ellie and another kid before a boss fight, but other than that—it’s purely background fluff. I likened it previously to a Saturday morning cartoon plotline, and I’ll still stand by that. I do think that DreamRift missed out on a great opportunity though; all along, Ellie is trying to get Chomp back to its mother, but this plot point fizzles out. It’s safe to assume the two are reunited, but it would’ve been nice to see some monsterly reunion on-screen.

The production values in Monster Tale can’t be ignored. The 2D sprites are colorfully crisp, and the animation work is top-notch. The quality kicks it into even higher gear during the boss fights, my favorite being against the deranged bunny rabbit. Background details such as monsters hiding behind paintings really help with the immersion. To be honest, I did not notice much of the music; I eventually turned all sound off as I got tired of hearing Ellie make a noise every time I hit the jump button. Every. Single. Time. Thank goodness the game’s gorgeous to look at for extended periods of time.

Monster Tale came out shortly before the Nintendo 3DS launched, a period being labeled as “the end of the Nintendo DS era,” but not by me. It might be late to the party, but it’s a pristine example of why gamers should stick around a little longer. Sure, the back-tracking gets tiresome, but the combat and pet raising is irrefutably addicting. It’s definitely one of the more unique Metroidvania titles in some time, and if you’re a fan at all of fun, friendly platformers, this is one helluva tale.

A copy of Monster Tale was provided to me by Majesco Entertainment for review. My completion total was 78.6% after just under eight hours. I’m pretty sure I found every room, but did not spend a ton of time evolving Chomp into different forms. I basically stuck with the Juggernaut form and grinded him to level 30 before the final boss fight. The hardest part of the game involved a moving platform and floor lined with deadly spikes.