Tag Archives: Microsoft

If you wish for peace, be ready to wait in Battle Ages

battle-ages-xbox-one-gd-impressions

One of my more fonder early gaming on a PC moments was the time I spent in Age of Empires, a history-based real-time strategy video game developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft. Yes, despite my natural disdain for the majority of RTS games out there, save for things like Kingdom Rush and the random run of a Command & Conquer: Red Alert skirmish, I did have a good time with that one, as it was a much more methodically paced foray into building up your camp and defending it when deemed necessary. It was definitely more Civilization than Warcraft, and that’s probably why I did better at the whole goal of trying to maintain peace for years on end. I’m into peace, majorly.

Anyways, Battle Ages is without a doubt no successor to Age of Empires, but it tries to guide the player slowly through different historical ages and creates one-off scenarios to do battle with other players’ camps or in-game missions. The problem is, right from the start, it’s a free-to-play game, and that means progress barriers for those unwillingly to pay money to knock those walls down. Like me. I started playing Battle Ages back in October 2016, and I guess I’ll consider myself being done with it as of this month. There’s still a new age to reach, as well as four seemingly unattainable Achievements, so I’m ready to uninstall the whole thing as soon as this post gets posted. Boom.

I’ve dipped into Battle Ages almost daily, whether to collect coins or begin researching a soldier or upgrade a building, because all those things are important to growing a strong, survivable settlement, as well as heavy on time. Naturally, the timers begin short, with some ranging in the 15-30 minutes range. A few, such as for upgrading landmines or walls, are instant, so long as you have enough free workers available for the job. By the end though, you’ll be waiting up to 5-6 days for some processes to complete. You could, of course, use money to bypass these timers via the use of jewels, the game’s special currency, but you don’t need to, if you are patient enough to wait. You will earn some jewels as you play, and I ended up burning a bunch to instantly have enough coins to push my civilization into the next era.

At some point during my journey to earn more gold so I could upgrade quicker, I broke some sort of peace treaty. This meant that, while I wasn’t playing Battle Ages, other people playing the game could attack my settlement and steal my hard-earned coins, as well as deplete my stock of soldiers. Boo to that. There were times that it felt like I was going nowhere, earning just enough gold to repair my bombs and restock my army tents. You can also go through a number of campaign missions where you attack a settlement and try to utterly destroy it, and these range in difficulty, but the most annoying thing for these is that, after you do one, you need to restock your army and call-in help before doing the next one. I eventually stopped doing these early on and stuck to timers for earning money and fame…which is probably why it took me so long to reach the Industrial Age.

So, with all that said, my time with Battle Ages has come to a close. I don’t see myself acquiring the four following Achievements left unpopped on my account:

  • Moving on Up (Acquire 2,500 trophies in battle)
  • Sticky Fingers (Steal 1,000,000 coins from the enemy)
  • Hold the Line (Achieve 250 defensive victories)
  • For the Win (Achieve 250 offensive victories)

If anything, Moving on Up seems permanently glitched, having been stuck at 40% for me since last year. Unless I’m doing something wrong. Either way, whatever. No Achievement for lowercase trophies. Well, when I get that next free-to-play, lots-of-timers itch and Fallout Shelter isn’t doing the job, I also have Battle Islands: Commanders from the same publisher 505 Games to get into, with that one focusing on World War II.

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I’m floating in a most peculiar way in Jetpac’s space

Y’all should know by now that I’d  do nearly anything for a free game. Some things I won’t do include swimming with sharks, eating an entire jar of mayonnaise, or going on one of those roller-coasters where you are dangling in the air from shoulder straps, your feet inches away from smacking into something solid and breaking into a thousand pieces. Otherwise, so long as I don’t end up in a lot of physical pain, I’m game.

And so, during this past week of E3 2017 shenanigans, there was a chance to earn Rare Replay, No Time to Explain, The Final Station, and a bunch of other digital rewards for zero dollars by simply watching Microsoft’s press conference live through Mixer, its streaming service formally known as Beam. Alas, I was too late to catch the conference, but there were other chances to participate throughout the week.

Of all those goodies, Rare Replay is the “game” I was most excited to receive; it’s a big collection of Rare’s history, a company that, after reviewing its portfolio, I have actually had little contact with, but appreciate their humor and love of colorful graphics from afar. I think I have only ever played one Rare game found in the collection, and that was Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Outside the collection, I’ve enjoyed Marble Madness, Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (sorry, not you, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!), and that opening level repeatedly on an emulated copy of GoldenEye 007 (please don’t arrest me). So there’s a lot to try out for the first time in this collection, and I have no intentions of playing through it in chronological order, but I did start it all off with Rare’s first game Jetpac, back when the company was called Ultimate Play the Game.

Jetman’s plight in Jetpac is one that pre-dates Groundhog Day, the film, by about ten years, but surely was an inspiration to anyone thinking about what it meant to be stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day and tasks again and again. Jetman must assemble his rocket (which spawns in installments scattered around the map) and fill it with a select amount of fuel before taking off to the next planet. This procedure is then repeated, over and over, with no end seemingly in sight. In addition to this, Jetman has to defend himself from the planet’s native aliens, which a varied and have different attack patterns. Some move diagonally, and others lock on to the tiny astronaut and follow him around the screen. He’s got a ray gun that shoots horizontal lasers for defense, and things like gems can be collected for bonus points.

By and far, my favorite thing about Jetpac is its wraparound world. You go to one edge of the screen, cross over, and appear on the other side. This is extremely handy when trying to avoid a group of enemies or make a shortcut to the rocketship. I’m sure this wasn’t the first game to do this, but I’m too tired to look up when Mario Bros. came out versus this game. Regardless, it works, and I have to say that, some 34 years later, the game plays pretty great. Jetman is pretty quick to move around, and the only problem I had was with collision on the platforms, which made him bounce back, often right into an alien enemy I was trying to avoid. The repetitious gameplay gets old, but one has to remember that this came from an era of high scores and bragging.

Thankfully, Rare Replay throws in some additional things to do, both in their milestone quests and snapshot features. Milestones are things like “kill X number of aliens” or “fill your rocketship up with fuel X times” while snapshots make things a little more tricky. One took away Jetman’s laser gun, forcing you to maneuver on your own quick wits, and another tasked him with completing five wraparounds in a row without dying. I happily completed all of these and popped every Achievement related to the title.

There are other games in the Jetpac series left to try out in Rare Replay, but I don’t know what I will tackle next. I suspect I’ll save some of the collectathons for later in life, when I have the time and am in a find shiny things kind of mood. Either way, I highly recommend you check out Jetpac and to not be put off by its age or graphics, of which I think the latter is pretty cool. The sound effects department is lacking, but I absolutely love the bright, crisp colors–the blurry screenshot above doesn’t do it justice, I know–and there’s a surprising amount of strategy and skill involved in bringing canisters of fuel to and fro. Certainly more than I expected when first launching it, and it’s always great to see where a company started. Here’s hoping Sea of Thieves incorporates some elements from Jetpac, like bringing bits of grog back to your ship one glass at a time until there’s enough to get the entire crew wasted and off to some other island.

Cut the Rope, grind out some free Achievements

I’m a curious fella, and so I like to download a range of freebies, judging nothing by its cover or title or clearly-designed-for-mobile artstyle, from walking simulators to platformers to physics-based puzzle games. Like Cut the Rope. Now, I got Cut the Rope as a free download on the Windows Store back in November 2016, many moons after everyone probably already played it on their phones. Or somewhere else. No, really. Allow me to list a few of the places you could have already played ZeptoLab’s indie darling from October 2010: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Leap Motion, BlackBerry 10, Symbian, BlackBerry PlayBook, DSiWare, Mac OS X Browser, BlackBerry, Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo eShop), Chrome OS, Firefox OS, Nook, iPad, and so on. I’m sure I missed a few platforms too. Sheesh.

Cut the Rope‘s objective, from its title alone, should be self-explanatory, but there’s a little more to it than simply snipping some string. Sorry, I love alliteration. Your true goal is to feed candy to a little green creature named Om Nom while collecting stars. The candy just happens to be tied up by a bunch of ropes, and by cutting them and using other elements in the level, like bubbles and puffs of air, along with general physics and momentum, you must guide the candy to Om Nom’s gaping mouth. You can use your finger to cut by swiping it across the touchscreen, but I’m cooler than that and played it on my laptop so imagine the same sweet maneuver, but done on a less-than-stellar trackpad. Boom goes the dynamite. It actually works fine, with the bonus of not having to look at my phone any more than I already do.

I was initially under the impression that Cut the Rope was like nearly every other free-to-play iteration built around getting three stars in a level out there–y’know, Angry Birds, Bad Piggies, Crush the Castle, and on for infinity. Nope. Well, not this version from the Windows Store, at least. If anything, this is Nintendo’s take on free-to-start, with only the first six levels of the first two worlds available for play and the remainder under lock and key. I thought I’d get the whole game and just have to occasionally close some advertisements or deal with an energy meter that limited how much I can play. Turns out, my play time was constricted, to only 12 levels that clearly hinted at fun gameplay and a super cute aesthetic, but I found one way to milk this cow for all it ultimately had. Ew, milk. I must think of a better metaphor for next time; anyways, I’m talking about Achievements. They’re those digital rewards I’m still somewhat interested in popping for the games I play.

Yes, despite only have access to a few early levels, I was able to unlock nine of Cut the Rope‘s 19 Achievements. Not bad for zero pennies and maybe an hour and change of my time. These Achievements revolved around doing tasks a specific amount, such as cutting X ropes, popping X bubbles, and losing X pieces of candy and were easily earn-able through repetition. Find a level that quickly lets you cut, pop, and drop, do it, restart, and the cycle is formed. I was also able to pop “Tummy Teaser,” which tasks you with getting Om Nom to open his mouth 10 times in a row in one of world 1’s basic levels, using a piece of candy on a single rope and having it swing back and forth in front of the teeny green beast for a bit. Strange enough, the Internet said this could only be done later on, in the full version. So this just proves my amazing prowess.

But yeah, ringing these twelve levels dry for Achievements with the music turned off and something else occupying my ears was the most fun I could come up with for Cut the Rope, seeing as the gameplay didn’t hook me enough to purchase the rest of the levels. I ran into this problem before with Can You Escape, also from the Windows Store, so I have to start being a little more critical in my downloading decisions because something labeled free might not always mean complete. That said, let the countdown begin until I inevitably grab Cut the Rope 2, which, in its description, says this:

SWEET! Cut the Rope 2 has arrived and you can enjoy the full adventure for FREE!

Uh huh. Sure.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #48 – Ben-Hur

2016 gd games completed ben hur

Take the reins, Ben-Hur
Steer this freebie, for glory
Easy Gamerscore

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Jerky McJerk complains his way to be everyone’s nemesis

gd sims freeplay jerky mcjerk nemesis of the state

I may or may not be nearing the end of my time with The Sims FreePlay, which I only really picked up again in September 2015 after not touching it for a good long while. I say may because I just popped the last, in my mind, feasible Achievement, which involved a lot of grinding and a solid time investment, and I say may not because, even though the remaining Achievements seem unattainable, there’s a part of me that wants to keep trying. In terms of goals, there’s really not much left for me to focus on, to grasp at achieving, and because this is a free-to-play game, restrictions abound when it comes to things like decorating your house, adding more Sims, and so on. I’d rather go play The Sims on a console or PC to get the full experience…or a fuller one via cheat codes.

First, take a look at this shiny thing, which required a lot of complaining on one man’s part, bless his terribly rude soul:

nemesis of the state achievement
Nemesis of the State: Have 1 Sim be nemeses with 16 Sims. (15G)

This took awhile. I’ve been actively working towards this goal for the last few months, and even created a specific Sim called Jerky McJerk to fill this role. That way it would be easy to track, especially once my Sims count reached over twenty, with only one Sim that everyone hated as a community. I made sure to dress Jerky McJerk in the pinkest suits ever seen to ensure I didn’t forget this man’s job in being rude and obnoxious to everyone he crossed paths with, except for toddlers and babies, as they are unaffected by impoliteness. Don’t know if that’s a hard fact or not, but I’ll believe it for now.

It’s a grindy goal, one that I often did while watching Giant Bomb or a TV show during my lunch break. Basically, I’d scan my list of villagers, see who wasn’t a nemesis with Jerky McJerk yet, send him over, and hit the “complain” interaction with them–for five minutes total, requiring about 30 interactions in the end. All without having my Windows phone’s screen time out. This resulted in me occasionally tapping the screen and checking it every few seconds to make sure all was going well. Rinse and repeat until Jerky McJerk is the bane of sixteen Sims total.

The problem was that, more or less, I had Jerky McJerk make enemies with about eight or nine people rather fast, but after them, I had to wait until more Sims were added to my town. Sometimes this didn’t happen right away because I’d rather spend my hard-earned Simoleons on buying new buildings pertinent to ongoing quests, like the stables or swimming center. It was only recently that I realized I had a decent amount of Lifestyle Points–that’s the orange currency in the pic above–somewhere around 80 or so since I never spent them. You can use these to buy new houses for rather cheap. Still, once you buy a house, you have to wait upwards of 36 hours for it to be “built,” which is why this process took so long. Good thing I’m Mr. Patience Man.

So, here’s what is left for me to accomplish in The Sims FreePlay: have my town be worth 12,000,000 simoleons, have it be worth 30,000,000 simoleons, and complete 1,000 goals. Sadly, after playing the game nearly daily for nearly five months, my town is only worth about 3,500,000 simoleons. That’s kind of harsh. I’ve not spent a single real dime, and I have to imagine that if I did plop down some digital cash my town’s worth be much higher. The “quickest” way to raise your town is to buy buildings and houses, both of which are costly and take time to complete after purchasing. Then you have to go through the long process of sending your Sims off to work every day to earn enough money to buy the next building or house, both of which go up in price the more you build. I’m not prophetic, but I think I can see the future, and it’s looking like a slow burn.

Evidently, there’s an exploit to help you boost your town’s worth by 30,000 simoleons, but it too is grindy and requires dedication. Not sure if it is even ultimately worth going after in such a manner. I’d rather hit these mile markers traditionally, and if I’m looking to complete 1,000 goals then surely it’ll happen along the way. The way could be years down the road. Also, one problem: I have no idea how many goals I’ve completed so far. Sure, sure–it’s feels like I’ve done a thousand and then some, but since there’s no stat tracking in-game, it’s impossible to tell, and I’m not about to start counting now.

I suspect I’ll keep tapping away at The Sims FreePlay for a bit more, just to see if I get any closer in a quicker fashion, but a part of me already feels ready to call this adventure dead and done. Which is strange, because I probably won’t uninstall the game right away, which means this cast of characters that I would play omnipotent being to and command they do my bidding will simply sit ignored on my phone, bereaved, with no chance of progressing. Huh, it’s kind of like when I’d play The Sims back on the PC, put a fellow in a row by himself, wait until he had to use the bathroom really bad, and then remove all the doors. Yup, I was that player.

The terse answer to Can You Escape is yup, but only to level 9

can you escape final gd impressions

I’ve been asked before, in real life, if I’d like to participate in one of those “escape the room” scenarios that are mega popular right around Halloween time. Or possibly other times too, but that’s when these scenarios can take the scaring to a whole new level. My gut response each and every time is to scream noooo and run away, arms flailing, never looking back. It’s not that I don’t think I have the brains to find my way out or even mind working cooperatively with friends (or strangers), but the idea of being closed in a small room with no immediate way out is enough to set me on edge…before I’m even in the room. Heck, I can barely handle waiting in that tight foyer on Disney World’s Haunted Mansion ride.

All that said, I have no problem playing digital versions of “escape the room,” and even seek these out now and then, as they often provide somewhat logical puzzles to figure out, which gets my brain muscles to flex for a bit. Can You Escape, which is one of the more lackluster attempts at a creative title about escaping a place, missing even enough energy to add a question mark at the end, is free to download from Microsoft for the PC or mobile devices. I grabbed it for my laptop, seeing as it now rocks Windows 10 and all that–plus, when it comes to pixel hunting, the bigger the screen the better.

Can You Escape takes place in a tall apartment building, which is purported to house a number of exceptional residents, with varying tastes and lifestyles. However, you won’t actually meet any of them per se, but you will get to explore their apartments and then escape them after you are done poking and prodding around. You begin in the lobby, but slowly ascend, with each room offering more and harder puzzles to solve before moving on to the next occupant’s home. I was under the assumption that you got fifteen levels to play here, which sounded like a fine enough deal for something that is free to download, but you only actually can play nine levels before you have to drop some cash. More on that in a bit.

To escape an apartment, you have to find the key that will open up the elevator–which defies logic and opens directly into each person’s place, acting as a front door anyone can step through–and to do that you’ll first have to solve a number of other puzzles that will eventually lead to the key or result in you creating a makeshift key. The number of puzzles and the difficulty level goes up every floor. There are clues all around, and you’ll do a lot of clicking, to and fro, gathering a small amount of items in your inventory to be used elsewhere or combined with another obtainable item. If you have a mediocre memory like me, you’ll also take pictures of clues with your cell phone. I do wish that some areas where you can click were made more obvious, as there was one apartment with a toy train and set of tracks on the floor that I didn’t know was clickable until I watched an online walkthrough after getting stuck. Also, a few items are difficult to decipher based on their picture only, so a description could have helped.

Can You Escape is fine. It’s not good, and it’s certainly not great. The puzzles do range from obvious to obtuse at times, but nothing will break your brain, and completing a puzzle about matching symbols do different heights still sends out satisfactory vibes through your body. Well, it does at least for my body. For a free download limned with the constant clutter of ads and that looping drum beat, it’s fine. I just wish they gave you all fifteen levels to play and locked other non-essential content behind a pay-wall. Here’s how the money breaks down for those stuck in the same boat that finished more than half of the levels and kind of actually want a little more:

  • All-in Package – $1.99
  • Bonus Levels 1 – $0.99
  • Bonus Levels 2 – $0.99
  • Remove Ads – $0.99

Yeah. It’s weird. I’m under the assumption that “Bonus Levels 1” gets you levels 10, 11, and 12, and that “Bonus Levels 2” will provide you with the remaining three–surprise, surprise, the game doesn’t really provide you many details. You could buy both those options together or simply get the “All-in Package” for seemingly the same price. Even still, I don’t think this is worth the money, especially after the developers give you nearly half the game for zero cents. A shame; plus it means that I won’t get to put Can You Escape on my completed list of games for 2016. Boo. I like finishing things.

A quick bit of research–in other words, Googling–shows that Can You Escape 2 is also available to play for free as well, but only to a point. There’s also a ton of in-app purchases for more levels and origamis (?). Hmm. I think I’ll steer clear from here onward, finding escapism elsewhere, where you get what you get, and you get out with what you got.

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.