Tag Archives: Microsoft

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.

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.