Tag Archives: Microsoft

Turn-based trial and error assassinating with Hitman GO

gd early impressions hitman go

The Hitman series and I have not exactly clicked over the years, which is strange, seeing as these are stealth-based games with multiple paths and ways to succeed, with one often using the environment or disguises to get jobs done than simply firing a bullet from a sniper rifle miles away. It’s that whole “this sounds better on paper” thing, seeing as I could barely get through the opening parts of Hitman: Blood Money and walked away from Hitman: Absolution fairly early on, though I’d still like to return to the latter eventually and give it a second shake.

Good news, everyone–Hitman GO rocks! In fact, it’s my favorite Hitman game so far. Yup, this turn-based, puzzle board game version of Agent 47’s stealth assassination missions is basically everything I do like about these games, but with a super strong aesthetic and enough challenge to get me scratching my head, but returning for more after every level. I bought it the other night for $0.10–that’s ten cents for those with eyesight problems–through Microsoft’s online store as part of their weekly sales for Black Friday, though I’m playing it on my laptop and not a tablet/phone as it is probably intended to be experienced. Too bad, so sad.

There’s no story in Hitman GO, and there doesn’t need to be. Instead, each world, represented by a vintage-looking board game box, collects a handful of themed levels together, with the main goal either being to reach the exit unnoticed and alive or kill a specific target, often draped in red attire. There are side objectives as well, such as collecting a briefcase or completing the level in a set number of turns, and those go towards acquiring stars, which will help you unlock future sets of levels. Every character is represented as a tiny figurine, even mimicking the “toppled over” effect of taken chess pieces when knocked down. I liked this in Crimson Shroud, and I like it once again here.

Truly, it’s the board game aesthetic that has me transfixed. Here’s a true fact about me: if you are ever looking for me in a bookstore, you can generally find me at the board games shelf, ogling just about everything, fascinated with all the games and possibilities, saddened over the fact that I don’t have anyone to play these things with. Recently, I gave Machi Koro a good hard look, amazed at the colorful, friendly artwork. If a real, tangible version of Hitman GO existed, I most assuredly would be staring at it for a while, as i do when I play. You can rotate the board around for a better view or to simply admire the small, off-to-the-side details.

I’m currently in the middle of the second world’s levels, which have introduced new, tricky mechanics like hiding in potted plants or using trapdoors to teleport around the screen at the cost of a turn. My biggest struggle right now is with the knife-wielding enemies in teal shirts that turn 180 degrees, as I still don’t grok when it is wise to move towards them. Strangely, it’s when they are already facing you. It’ll take some practice, though I’m sure there are other elements down the road that will be just as hard to figure out.

A negative, sadistic part of me wonders if I’ll hit a wall when I get to the Blood Money-themed levels–yup, I know they are forthcoming–and tasked with tossing coins to distract guards, but we’ll see what those ultimately look like when I cross that path. Until then, may all your puzzles be murder.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #58 – Adera (Episode 1, “The Shifting Sands”)

2015 gd games completed adera episode 1

Find hidden objects
Archaeological plot
Familiar, but fun

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.

Microsoft Jackpot makes sure the reels keep spinning

gd microsoft jackpot 2 early imps

Despite growing up right outside Atlantic City, I’ve never really had a deep desire to gamble away my hard-earned savings. If you can call tip-outs from being a bus boy during my high school and college days “savings,” that is. Unless it’s through a penny slot machine, where a dollar can go a long way. The siren’s call of ka-ching, ching, ching never sounded beautiful, and this was reinforced that time I went out to Las Vegas for Spring Break and saw old women in wheelchairs, an oxygen tank under one arm and a plastic bucket to gather money in the other, spending all their hours in front of the slots. It’s the sort of scene you can’t help but stare at–because it’s real.

Speaking of “real,” Microsoft is a real strange company. Remember when they were only mainly concerned over operating systems? Er, nevermind. Now they got videogames and consoles to juggle. When it comes to “casual” gaming, they have really cornered the market, at least on their personal devices, championing their own takes on Bingo, Solitaire, Sudoku, Minesweeper, Jigsaw, and Mahjong, all of which are free to download and consume. I’ve dabbled in just about all of these, and, truthfully, they’re pretty great, unoffensive, and inexpensive ways to spend a few minutes on your phone or computer while transitioning from one thing to another.

Microsoft Jackpot is no different. It’s the corporate company’s stab at slot machines, which are one-armed bandits with three or more reels that spin when a button is pushed or lever is pulled. These gambling machines reward the player when certain patterns of symbols appear after the spinning stops. They are still the most popular means of gambling, accounting for 70% of U.S. casinos’ income. All machines differ in terms of themes and bonus mini-game mechanics, but the majority of them work the same way, keeping players sitting on a stool, feeding their coin slots. I remember enjoying one once that involved frogs leaping around on lily pads, though I quickly walked away from it after winning a bit of money.

To play the slots here, you use money–shiny, gold coins–earned in-game as you go instead via your debit account. You are also earning points with each spin to raise your main level, which gates what themes you can try out. So far, at level 9, I’ve only unlocked three of the five themes, which are the Jungle, a James Bond riff, and Candy Boxes, and they all have different bonus mini-games where you can hit it big to, naturally, in the future, bet larger amounts. Personally, I think “Jackpots Are Forever” is the most interesting theme, with your 007 wannabe Jack Pott chasing after jewel thieves before they can escape via boat or helicopter. Granted, all of this is done by spinning the reels and relying on luck, but it is much more fun to watch than simply a flashing sign and music cue. Plus, there’s plenty of puns to eat up.

Since Microsoft Jackpot is a free-to-play game, there are of course ads to deal with. Some pop up right after you hit all the triggers to start a bonus mini-game, meaning you have to grumble and sit through it to get to the true action, and others can be watched once every half hour to earn some extra coins or lucky clovers, which supposedly provide you better chances at winning though it has never felt like it. You can also spend real money on fake money, and the “best deal,” for Microsoft at least, asks you to purchase 2,000,000 gold coins, 13,000 lucky clovers, and remove all ads for a meager $199.99. Your call in the end, but I’m going to lean towards “don’t do it.”

Perhaps my favorite or maybe the most dangerous element of Microsoft Jackpot is that you can set it to autopilot. Basically, you can select how much you want to bet, check off “auto spin” and “fast spin,” and watch as the machine continuously eats up your money, occasionally giving you some back. Similar to Time Clickers, I’ve been leaving it on in the background as I do other work, checking in with it to ensure I’m not bankrupt or if I am ready to do a bonus mini-game. In real life, this sort of feature could be crippling, possibly life-destroying. Here, it helps skirt the tedium.

I’ll definitely keep spinning the reels in Microsoft Jackpot until I can unlock the last two themes, as I’m curious to see what they do differently, but probably after that I’ll take my digital money and time elsewhere. Perhaps all of this gambling will inspire me to finally attempt that Fallout: New Vegas run where I bankrupt every casino on the strip.

Happiness is yelling BINGO!, even at your cell phone

gd microsoft bingo-benefits

A few days before my thirty-second birthday, I took stock of myself in the mirror, counting the number of gray hairs–both atop my head and in my beard–demanding attention. I won’t give you the actual total, but let’s just say that there were a few more than last year, and a few more than the year prior, and I guess I should consider myself lucky, considering that my father started losing hair color in his later twenties. What does all this have to do with Bingo, you ask, having zero patience? Well–old people. Old people love the Bingo, and I’m beginning to accept my future fate, as quickly as it draws near, that I’ll be amidst them sooner than later, stamping a bunch of cards and listening for that sweet, sweet call of O-69.

I mean, when I saw that Microsoft Bingo was available for my crappy, but loveable Windows 8 phone and that it was free, I got excited. Genuinely, honestly, truly. I don’t yet own any daubers, but if I did, one could probably imagine me dusting them off at that exact moment, eyes open, throat thirsty for numbers. I remember fondly playing “math Bingo” back in grade school, thinking that this was one addicting way to spend some time, as well as learn, and I was like seven or eight then. I guess another twenty-five years doesn’t make much of a difference.

To start, it’s Bingo. Don’t go in expecting something that is not, as its roots, Bingo. It’s that same ol’ game of chance invented in 1929 and played with different randomly drawn numbers, which players match against numbers that have been pre-printed on 5×5 cards. In real life, you use a dauber, but here you can simply touch the spot on the screen with your finger to mark it. If you mark five in a row (or all four corners), you can count yourself a star, as that’s a Bingo!

That said, it’s a videogame version of Bingo, which means you can also use power-ups, gather collectibles, and earn XP to advance in level, which opens up new locations to play at; so far, of the total ten, I can daub with old ladies and men in France and the United Kingdom. Some of the power-ups range from helpful, like knowing the next five numbers to be called out before anyone else, to lazy, where the board will highlight the number in a lit box if it is ready to be daubed. Of course, you always have the option to purchase more power-ups–both with in-game coins or real-life dollars–after you run out, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to that point. For me, it’s not about the power-ups; it’s about hearing a man or woman say B-4, finding it on my various boards, and tapping it in.

You’re also playing Bingo live with other players, though, early on, it really doesn’t feel like it. It’s only when you begin to see the Bingo count, which starts at 30, begin to deplete that you realize you’re wasting time while others are calling their shots and earning points and coins. It is rare that I finish a match with a single Bingo, though I have on occasion gotten lucky and hit a bunch; it really depends on your board and the numbers called, as it is all random. What’s nice is you can pay a small amount of coins–it increases in each new location–to continue playing solo after the match is over, drawing five more numbers, to see if you can hit any Bingo lines you were setting up over the course of the game.

Currently, I jump between playing two cards at once to four cards, though four cards requires a bit more concentration and flickering from the eyes. With just two cards, you can see both on the one screen, which allows you to quickly daub a number after it’s called. If you have more than two cards in play, you have to scroll them up or down to see, and the going back and forth takes a bit to manage. Still, there’s better rewards and a greater chance to yell Bingo at your cell phone with more cards, but you have to be ready to juggle multiple actions.

All in all, it’s a new twist on a classic, and thankfully, all the new twist dressings, such as experience points, power-ups, and collectibles, don’t get too in the way of what makes Bingo a ton of fun. So long as the numbers keep getting called out, I’ll continue daubing, but don’t expect to see me paying for the removal of ads or purchasing additional luggage keys. This is one free-to-play game where the in-game purchases really don’t make any sense.

Hungry Shark Evolution wants you to experience life as a shark

hungry shark evolution

I know I’ve covered this before, but if your videogame has a ridiculously weird name, there’s an even greater chance that I’ll check it out. Which leads us to Hungry Shark Evolution, from Future Games of London and, strangely, Ubisoft, the powerhouse behind time-standing franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, and Rayman. It’s okay to be curious; I know I was the minute I saw the name scroll by on my Windows 8 phone. However, after playing about fifteen to twenty minutes and not really getting anywhere great in this digital shark life of mine, I think this is one strange title that probably shouldn’t have surfaced. Hey, look at that…a totally unplanned Microsoft-themed pun!

The short of it is that, in Hungry Shark Evolution, which I’m playing on my Windows 8 phone, you are a shark that is very hungry. No, really. Like starving. Your hunger meter–which is basically your health bar–depletes extremely fast, and so the shark is never satisfied despite eating an entire school of fish in one gulp. Your goal is to survive as long as you can, which means constantly swimming around, looking for your next meal. This can be easy targets, like tiny fish that don’t fight back, or other sharks…or even unaware swimmers if you head towards the beachy area. Along the way, you can complete side objectives specific to each shark type, and these generally boil down to things like “eat four turtles” and “survive for at least six minutes.” Nothing terribly difficult, seeing as I have already unlocked one of the six total Achievements for the game:


Reef Shark (20G): Complete Super Mission 1 using Reef shark.

To complete the Super Mission, you have to first finish all the side missions and do whatever is asked of you next. For this, it was hitting a high score of 25,000 points. Not too hard. The other five Achievements are tied to the other five sharks–Mako, Hammerhead, Tiger, Great White, and Megaladon–which you unlock by first leveling up the prior shark to its fullest. I’ve got the Mako shark next on my evolve list.

The challenge in Hungry Shark Evolution comes from enemies, like sting rays, other sharks, scuba divers, etc, which attack you and significantly lower your food meter. I’ve found some enemy aquatic life harder to kill than others, specifically the sting rays, and if you miss on your first chomp, chances are the shark is taking a hit of health. If you go too long without eating something, that’s it. Your score and gold coins are added up, you watch your shark’s XP grow, and you get returned to the start mission menu, where you can enhance your shark’s swim, bite, and boost abilities, as well as purchase one-use items, accessories, and treasure maps. Some parts of the underwater map are also gated depending on what shark you are using; for example, the reef shark can only swim down so deep.

Much like in Throne Together, I’m finding my finger to be a hindrance to performing a great run. To move the shark, you simply press on the screen and move your finger in the direction you want it to swim. I find it easier to keep my finger in the middle of the screen, because if I move it too far over to the right then I risk the danger of hitting one of the buttons to return me to my phone’s home screen. Keeping it on the left means my wrist is now covering the screen. Again, my finger ends up obstructing a good portion of my view of the shark. Also, while moving with one finger, you can tap the screen with another finger to perform a boost of speed, which is easier said than done, considering I’m using my other hand to cradle the phone in place.

It’s a strange game, for sure. It looks nice, with cartoony, World of Warcraft-like graphics that help flesh out a colorful underwater realm. And it is teeming with puns, like when you eat a scuba diver, the words AQUALUNCH pop up, or VITAMIN SEA after gobbling up a bunch of fish. I think I even saw SUN SCREAM when you leap from the water onto the beach to steal away some clueless sun-tanner. As a cartoonist that lives and dies on pun-related humor, I can’t help but squeal and smile at all this. Goofy name and goofy humor currently outweigh all the free-to-play elements here, which, so far, are easy enough to ignore.

Life as a reef shark was fairly perfunctory, so I’m looking forward to what I can do as a Mako shark. At some point, I also need to Google whether Megaladon is a real shark or one from dinosaur times; it looks ridiculous.

The geometric world of Hexic definitely needed my help

hexic w8 phone screenshot

Are you a cats or dogs kind of person? If you must know, I’m a big fan of cats. For proof, here’s my two furry critters: Pixie and Timmy. And I’m not just throwing this question out here for any ol’ reason, but I think you could potentially use that common question and apply it to videogames as well, such as so: are you a Call of Duty or Battlefield kind of fan? Crash Team Racing or LittleBigPlanet Karting? Or, to get right down to it, are you a Bejeweled or Hexic kind of puzzler?

For me, I never really played much Bejeweled save for a round or two on Facebook when I had a few minutes to kill and wanted to see who else on my friends list was doing the same. I’m a Hexic man through and through, and I’m fine with that. Heck, the game was designed by Alexey Pajitnov of, y’know, Tetris fame, so it’s got some serious cred behind its creation. Anyways, Hexic HD came pre-installed on my original Xbox 360–which is still operating since mid-2009–and I played it a lot. Almost like a friendless fiend. No, really. I would come home from work on my lunch-break to eat and instead shove food into my mouth as fast as possible while I dangled a controller on my lap and stared at a screen of tiles, analyzing the scenario and seeing which ones to turn next. Eventually, I moved away from Hexic HD as the remaining Achievements seemed nigh impossible to unlock, and they still do some five years later, but it remains a fun memory.

But Microsoft knows I’m still their unconditional, unwavering Hexic man, releasing a version for both Windows 8 and the Windows 8 phone for me to eat up. Naturally, I played the latter, and while it is far from perfect, it’s been a great little game to eat up ten to fifteen minutes every day as I progressed through all of its 100 levels. For those that don’t know how it plays, you are trying to rotate hexagonal tiles to create certain patterns and clear spaces on the board or create special tiles that have various effects. This time around, the mobile version sets different goals for each level, like hit X amount of points or destroy all of the dark tiles in X number of moves. It’s more goal-driven, which works in its favor for gaming on the go.

There’s also a bit of story, with a blue-faced tile encouraging you forward. It’s light and thin stuff, but it is nice to read some cutesy–if throwaway–dialogue between rounds and learn about how certain power-ups work.

Now for the negatives. Hoo boy.

Hexic is a free-to-play game that asks you, pretty frequently, to spend real money. Either on special boosters or extra lives. See, you get five lives–also know as five chances not to fail a level–and they refresh themselves over time. I think it’s maybe around 20 to 25 minutes for one new life to be gained. If you run out of lives, but want to keep playing and can’t wait around, well…the game has a store button for you. I’m not one to ever get involved in microtransactions, and let it be known that you can complete every level in the game without spending a real U.S. dollar; granted, I probably would’ve been finished with the game a month or so ago if I had, but there is nothing wrong with making something last. Patience is a plus.

The game also ends up crashing a lot, seemingly for no real reason. The first few times I chalked it up to how I was holding the phone and maybe I accidentally bumped the back arrow or something. Nope, not it. You’ll be doing well, making combos and gaining a high score, and suddenly you are kicked from the game back to your phone’s main screen. A straight dump. What’s even more frustrating is that when you log back in to play, the life you were just on is gone, and so not only did you mess up a good run, but you’re down one life. Knowing this also helped fuel my desire to never spend a single dime on extra BS because I had to now live and play in constant fear of crashes.

I haven’t uninstalled Hexic from my phone just yet, but I really think I might be done with my tile-turning time. For now. There’s maybe one or two more Achievements I could possibly go after, but the remainder seem to require some hard-earn money to get close to, and while I love Hexic, I don’t love it that much.

Crackdown was goofy fun, but instilled fear to protect the populace


Crackdown has an uninspired story, dated graphics, wonky controls, and yet remains a decent blast to play some seven years thanks to its open-endedness and the freedom it gives the player to do whatever they want, in whatever order is desired. It’s been a great game for picking up and playing a little bit, and then putting down for a few months while other more narrative-driven videogames demand my time. Recently, I put my nose to the grindstone and took out gang leader after gang leader, eventually wiping Pacific City clean of baddies. No, really–the entire post-game map seems to be void of anyone to punch, shoot, or blow up, which kind of throws a wrench into my progress for a few desirable Achievements.

Again, there’s very little story here, except to say that you’re a supercop working for the Agency who can grow in strength over time by punching, shooting, exploding, and driving just right. Meaning, no going all Grand Theft Auto III and killing an entire street’s worth of civilians, as that’ll actually take away from your level up progression. You are tasked with taking out racist-themed gang leaders and their subsequent goons, and that’s all the story you get for 95% of the game–until right after you finish the final fight. Sorry, but I’m going to have to spoil the twist here to prove a point: your commander, y’know, that directions-giving voice in your head, reveals that he was the one to give so much power to these gangs, to make the populace fear them and be grateful for when the Agency came sweeping through to save the day. It’s not far off from Syndrome’s plan in The Incredibles, and the twist comes out of nowhere and immediately fails because there’s no substantial story actually backing it up. You spend the whole game killing gang leaders, and the ending still would have fallen flat if your commander simply congratulated you and shot fireworks into the night sky.

Crackdown is basically a mix of shooting and platforming, and neither of the two felt stupendous throughout my entire playthrough. Certainly, the jumping is more fun and tighter than the shooting, which gave me a lot of trouble, especially when I was trying to target a different armed enemy, but it kept locking on the one closest to me. That said, jumping from building roof to building roof, even with upgrades to increase the height and length of a leap, still proved a gamble, and I found myself falling to the boring streets below quite often. When you can nail a string of rooftop jumps, it does feel pretty awesome and superhero-like. Overall, the shooting never felt effective, as if you were blasting walking bags of sand until, eventually, they fell down.

There are a few side activities to occupy your time while you move between gang leaders, and they are as so: Agility Orbs, Hidden Orbs, Street Races, Rooftop Races, and Stunt Jumps. Let’s get this out of the way first; I did maybe one or two Street Races/Stunt Jumps and immediately decided to never do them again. Since the driving in the game is so arcade-y and unpredictable, these two activities proved more trouble than fun. As for Rooftop Races, they can be a good time so long as you are upgraded enough to leap here and there. I ended up doing one that brought the Agent all the way back to HQ, but couldn’t finish the race because it was asking me to climb to the tippy-top. Boo and grrr.

Now, for a lot of players, Crackdown is Agility Orbs. These are green glowing balls of light, often on roofs, which you can collect. There are…500 in total. When you get a certain amount, your jumping skills increase, so they are a collectible worth going after, but be prepared, as there are 500 in total, and they do not appear on your map. You gotta keep your eyes and ears open for ’em. By the end of the game, I had found 400+. Oh, and there are something like 300 Hidden Orbs–blue balls of light that provide a boost of experience to all of the Agent’s abilities–and I had only grabbed around 75 or so by Crackdown‘s conclusion. I don’t think I’ll be going back to track down anymore despite the collector in me screaming otherwise.

Alas, I can only imagine how much more fun and amazing this was in 2007, but Microsoft gave out a free copy of Crackdown for Gold users only recently, and so I’m playing it in a completely different industry era. Times have changed, controls have changed, and standards are a bit higher. It’s fine, truly, but games like inFamous 2 improved on the formula greatly. Well, I’m glad I got to at least experience it, knowing that a new one is forthcoming. Speaking of that…

Recently, thanks to the E3 news that a new Crackdown is on its way, Jeremy Parish from USGamer put together a retrospective on the original game that is very much worth your time.