Tag Archives: Pixar

LEGO The Incredibles needs to be a bit more flexible

Hey, remember when I played The Incredibles on PlayStation 2 and mostly hated everything it had to offer? Well, the good news is that LEGO The Incredibles is forty-five times better than that hunk of junk…though it still has its own issues to deal with. That said, it is one of the better LEGO games of recent memory, and I’m looking to hit 100% completion on it real soon, which is a lot more than I can say about LEGO City Undercover.

LEGO The Incredibles is a fairly fun-filled adventure that puts you in control of your favorite characters from the franchise, along with a bunch of familiar faces from other Pixar films, such as Sulley from Monsters, Inc. or Merida from Brave. You’ll have to team up as the superhero Parr family to conquer crime and relive in LEGO form the unforgettable scenes from The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 movies. Strangely, the game starts with levels from the second movie first, but I guess that’s because this game was tied with the theater release of The Incredibles 2. I greatly enjoyed the sequel, but my heart will always call home that first flick…so it was a bit of a bummer to have to go through the game backwards.

It follows the standard format of most modern LEGO games now, which means there are long-as-heck story-related levels to complete, each with their own collectibles to find, along with a large hub world to run around in and complete other smaller tasks, such as time trial races or defusing bombs. A part of me feels like the hub world is quite small when compared to things like Middle-earth from LEGO The Lord of the Rings or even the multiple islands in LEGO Jurassic World, but maybe that’s because you can zip around it rather swiftly if you use any character that can fly. You can purchase a number of vehicles too, but again–why drive when you can zip through the skies, with or without a cape (no capes!)?

Something I did enjoy greatly in LEGO The Incredibles is getting to play as all the different superheroes, not just the Parr family, most of which are long dead by the time things get going in the first film. For instance, the game mixes things up so you can have a partner on Nomanisan Island, and your go-to-pal is none other than Gazerbeam. Sure, sure, he’s definitely dead in the movie due to taking part in Syndrome’s droid’s battle education, but at least now you can put a voice to the character and see how his powers work. Others to definitely try out include Dynaguy, Apogee, and Firebreak, who I used the most to fly around New Urbem. There’s a wealth of lore to dig through, and I got excited every single time I unlocked a superhero from the past; that said, Voyd is kinda cool too.

One of the elements of LEGO The Incredibles that gets truly repetitive is clearing out crime waves in each district. Basically, to rid the city of crime, you have to complete teeny side missions out in the hub world, such as “put out 10 fires” or “defeat three gangs of X’s goons,” and then beat up whatever iconic supervillain is behind it all. Once you do that, that district reveals all its collectibles on the map, gives you a Pixar Incredibuild to do, which just consists of a lot of button mashing, along with a red brick. The only beam of bright light among all this is that it is presented as a breaking news report, and the TV anchor uses every pun in the book to get the job done. I love puns.

LEGO The Incredibles is a good amount of fun, but some of that fun is watered down by really long loading screens, story levels that never seem to end, and repetitive elements, like crime waves, mindless combat, or doing Incredibuilds solo and having to mash the build button for four separate characters. Ugh. Still, I’m having fun with all the various superheroes (Old Lady is fantastic, too) and a few of the Pixar characters, though now I just want a LEGO Toy Story. That might actually be a thing that could happen with the forthcoming film on its way, and they already have a Woody model, along with three other films to build off of and–sorry, sorry, you caught me monologuing!

2019 Game Review Haiku, #1 – LEGO Incredibles

Mash all the buttons
Sit through longest loading screens
We’re incredible

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #21 – Brave

This princess thirsts for
Generic monster fodder
Her bow screams–Mor’du!

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

Brave’s videogame transformation is not surprisingly rote

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being slightly baffled as to why Brave, that character action romp from 2012 developed by Behaviour Interactive and published by Disney Interactive Studios, not to be mixed up with another similar-sounding series, was being offered as a Games for Gold freebie this month for those on Xbox One and Xbox 360, but then I realized it is probably the closest thing Microsoft has that’s Irish-like in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I mean, let’s look at the facts–Scotland is totally near Ireland, and Kelly Macdonald’s deeply relaxing and soothing accent might as well be coming out of a banshee’s mouth. I guess those are all the facts.

Actually, no, another fact–I love Brave. I’m specifically talking about the animated movie here, the one where Princess Mérida, determined to make her own path in life, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, she must rely on her bravery and ultra-good archery skills to undo a beastly curse and bring about peace to both her kingdom and family. That said, I do not love the videogame version of Brave, though I have just about squeezed every bit of entertainment from it by the time this post goes public. By that, I mean I popped all but one Achievement, the one for beating the game on its hardest difficulty setting.

This tie-in take on Brave doesn’t follow the film’s events scene by scene. Instead, it’s kind of a side happening, with Mérida chasing after her mother, now in bear form (uh, spoilers?), and discovering that a magical blight has befallen the land. To stop it, she’ll need to defeat Mor’du, along with a number of generically traditional evil creatures. There’s under ten levels to get through, and you’ll do them linearly, and they are all linear themselves, following almost the same exact progression, but more on that in a bit. The story never really becomes its own thing and never rises above an excuse to have a bunch of monsters to destroy; at least the hand-drawn cutscenes are more interesting to watch than the ones using in-game graphics, which, and this is not uncommon for this generation, are extremely ugly and lacking life, character. I mean, the inside of any castle section might as well be from the chopping floor for Demon Souls or Oblivion.

Brave‘s gameplay is far from courageous or anything unique. There’s running around, jumping on platforms, loosing arrows, and hitting plants and enemies with your sword. Oh, and I can’t forget the section where you play as her bear-mother Elinor, or the parts where you control her bear-brothers to solve beyond straightforward puzzles involving levers and switches. Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this kind of played like a twin-stick shooter. Using the right stick, you can loose an arrow in mostly any direction and change the element it is based on–earth, fire, wind, or ice–which is necessary for affecting the environment, as well as dealing more damage based on an enemy’s weakness. Fire boars hate ice, for instance. That said, the arrows sometimes don’t go where you want them to, and it reminded me a lot of trying to hit enemies in the background in Shadow Complex.

Look, this is obviously a family-friendly title, and thus, the action is okay, never trying too hard to be more than a standard affair. On the default difficulty, it never, ever even came close to challenging. My go-to plan for dealing with enemies was to fire at them from a distance and then, if they got close, double-jump and stab downward into the ground with Mérida’s sword for a damaging slam move. The only time it ever got tricky was when there were multiple enemies on screen with different weaknesses, requiring you to either switch your element out on the fly or take on a single set of enemies out first. The final boss fight–or rather final boss fights–have a bunch of these, but by that point in the game, Mérida is full of upgrades and more than capable of taking a few hits.

Speaking of that, the upgrades are what one expects in these types of games–more health, deal more damage, element effects last longer, potions restore more life, etc. They each require a specific amount of gold, which you earn from defeating monsters and cutting up flora. One playthrough alone of the game will probably only net you enough gold coins to buy maybe one-third of all the upgrades. So choose wisely or, if you are like me and want every Achievement, be prepared to grind out some money, and this includes purchasing the co-op specific upgrades. The ones you definitely want early on are increasing your power move meter more quickly, either from dealing damage or receiving it, the range at which you suck up gold coins, and the minion-summoning power for the earth element.

I’ve not played many of these tie-in games to Pixar/Disney properties I love because, well, they are often not what I want. Here’s a link to my thoughts on that The Incredibles game, which still hurts to think about today. I can’t say I was surprised by how Brave turned out, and I’m only holding out hope now on the rumor of a LEGO-based game for the upcoming The Incredibles II. That said, I’m sure if I ever get a copy of the videogame takes on WALL-E, Up, or Toy Story 3, I’ll foolishly give them a honest chance, forgetting all the missteps I’ve seen along the way up to this point.

Well, as they famously say in Scotland, lang may yer lum reek, Brave. I never want to play you again.

CounterSpy-ing has always gone on since ancient times

gd impressions counterspy screenshot1

Well, I could only resist for so long. CounterSpy, thanks to its stylish look and sneaky-sneaky gameplay, has been calling out to me every time I scroll by it on my list of PlayStation 3 games, having downloaded it as a PlayStation Plus freebie back in March 2015. It’s just one of many stealth games in my collection I’m thirsty to drink, and while it wasn’t a very tall glass in the end, I still found the act of undermining both sides of an alternate Cold War era to be refreshing. Plus, I’ll never tire of tranquilizing dudes, watching a fellow soldier come over to investigate their sleeping buddy, and then tranquilizing them. I still think fondly back to that time I stuffed about eight or nine sleeping soldiers in a vent in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

CounterSpy ends up combining spy mythology with the colorful, striking aesthetics of the 1950s and 1960s, a time period for art that I will never not find fascinating. As previously mentioned, it’s set during the Cold War, though not exactly the one we experienced on this planet. You control an agent of C.O.U.N.T.E.R., a rogue agency that keeps–or at least attempts to–the world’s superpowers in peace. As each side of the ongoing conflict inches its way closer to seeing who can blow up the moon first, which seems like a terrible idea regardless of who does it, C.O.U.N.T.E.R. gets to work sabotaging their plans and maintaining peace.

You do this by sneaking around a left-to-right scrolling level, either for the Socialists or the Imperialists, depending on who is the current greater risk, and stealing launch plans, gathering intel, taking out soldiers, and so on. The levels themselves are randomly generated, though by the end of the game you begin, much like in Spelunky, to learn how several chunks fit together with one another. I always knew where the developers were trying to hide an accessible vent behind foreground elements. As you gather enough plans, you’ll learn about rocket launch codes and flight plans, knowing enough to intervene and stop those death-carrying rockets from lifting off–but the last level plays out in the same fashion as the previous levels, with only more soldiers to deal with; it was the most challenging part of my playthrough, but it only took another try to set the world’s superpowers straight.

As you play CounterSpy and do your counterspying thing, you’ll gather blueprints for both weapons and formulas, which act like purchasable perks before each mission. During my first playthrough, I only unlocked two formula, one which lessened the amount of damage to my agent and another that instantly lowered the threat level by a single amount, and I used these two each and every time, no matter how poor I was. For guns, I always carried a lethal rifle for when things went topsy-turvy, but mostly stuck with the silenced pistol and sleep tranquilizer gun, always trying for the quietest of approaches. That said, when things go bad–and they can go bad fast–I wasn’t afraid to unleash real bullets. It’s here often that you’ll wish the agent moved with more fluidity, that he could actually jump or that aiming on a 2.5D background was easier. There’s a lot of talk right now about how escaping heated moments of discovery in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is more fun than anything else, and that’s not the same case with CounterSpy.

Visually, CounterSpy is a delight, and it shows that indie studio Dynamighty is founded by LucasArts and Pixar veterans. I see a lot of The Incredibles‘ influence here with the bold colors and larger-than-life propaganda, but I wish the writing between missions was either super serious or entirely goofy; as it stands, it’s both, which can be confusing when you are talking about blowing up Earth’s moon. Plus, and this is a terribly small issue to bring up, but there’s an inconsistent use of a period at the end of C.O.U.N.T.E.R., which drives me batty. Regardless, it’s not really the story that shines here, but seeing how far you can get through a highly patrolled base before getting spotted.

One could probably get through CounterSpy in a single sitting, but I liked to space it out over a few nights. Undermine the Imperialists, then take a break and see what the Socialists are up to. Get some new weapons and read a few dossiers while enjoying a cup of java. Either way, I’ve started a new campaign on the next higher difficulty and am not finding it as fun to slog through once more. I might continue on to get a few more Trophies before diffusing this operation entirely from my list of need-to-play-soon games.

The Incredibles wants you to cross the line and suffer the consequences

the incredibles ps2 final thoughts violet's crossing

After all my years of gaming, I can only recall a few specific moments vividly by name or the tears that I cried as they truly frustrated me, the man with all the patience in the universe. Allow me to name them. That boss fight against Moldorm in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, especially when it could knock you off the level itself, forcing you to retrace your steps. The entire realm of Aquis from Primal, which is all about swimming, but not about good swimming controls. Lastly, there’s that wall jumping section in Super Metroid, which, to this day, is a mechanic I still don’t have down pat. Well, we can now add “Violet’s Crossing” from The Incredibles on the PlayStation 2 to this curmudgeonly list.

I’m actually going to talk a bit about the entire second half of The Incredibles, but I feel like “Violet’s Crossing” is such a special case of fail that it needs its own paragraph or two. Allow me.

For a level that many YouTubers seem to get through in about nine minutes, this one took me forty-one minutes and change; also, I stopped counting how many times I died after twenty or so, especially since you can kill Violet within seconds of gaining control. It’s a stealth mission and the only time you are in control of Violet by herself. For those familiar with the movie, her power is turning invisible, but the game limits this to only a few seconds. Four or three, tops. Your goal here is to reach the end of the level without being caught, as she is killed instantly when spotted, taken down by a single laser beam bullet. Guards are on high alert and can hear her sneaking by if too close or if she brushes against some foliage.

I like stealth, but I guess I should say that I technically like good stealth, and I’m thinking about Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Mark of the Ninja mostly. “Violet’s Crossing” is a terrible stealth level, seemingly created by developers that have never played a stealth videogame in their collective lives. There’s no map, the guards have no vision cones or indication of where they are looking, and you have very limited control of the camera–I wonder if I’ll say the same thing when I revisit Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Throw in a super short period for using her invisibility power, as well as one-shot kills, and this turns into a frustrating spout of patience, of creeping inch by inch forward, hoping to hit a checkpoint and not have to repeat everything over and over. By the end of it, I felt like an AGDQ speedrunner, following a specific path and doing certain button presses, knowing they’d work because I had memorized how the guards moved and where one had to go to avoid them. However, instead of waiting what felt like an eternity for Violet’s Incredi-power meter to fill back up with invisibility juice, I spammed another secret passcode.

The level immediately after this is probably the most fun I had with The Incredibles, as Dash and Violet team up to pilot a bubble shield ball thing and mess around with physics. Basically, you get to bounce around in a bubble, taking out enemy soldiers, turrets, and machinery, while occasionally hitting some sweet jumps. After this, it is back to the same ol’ same ol’, with Mr. Incredible fighting that very same tank mini-boss he fought a few levels back multiple times in a row. It’s maddening, especially since the only way to stay alive and not lose progress and have to do all this repetitive busywork over again is to spam health cheat codes. But get this–The Incredibles is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even have a full health or invincibility cheat code. All you can do is keep typing in UUDDLRLRBAS for 25% health refill….25%. Which depletes quickly when battling a fire-spewing tank. I mean, c’mon, the Konami code used to grant you 30 lives in Contra and dress Qwark up in a tutu in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal.

Ironically, the final final fight against the Omnidroid is not too difficult and kind of fun, so long as you keep an eye on everyone else’s health meters. Plus, after you beat it, you can continue running around the area, throwing rocks and leaping into burning trash bins, as the credits roll. For some reason, it reminded me of a Tony Hawk level. Or maybe my brain was so relieved to be done with this draining process in poor controls and faulty design choices that I was already beginning to think about what to play next. Please note that I did not actually go play Tony Hawk next (more on that in another post).

Oh, and somewhere about halfway through the game, I unlocked “Battle Arena” in the menu option. No, it’s not a local multiplayer slagfest. In it, you play as Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl, placed an arena to face round after round of enemies, culminating in a final tank battle, everyone’s favorite from the main campaign. Why would anyone do this? Well, to earn more bonus items, also known as uninteresting concept art. Here’s the kicker: you get one bonus item at the end of each round, so if you want all twenty of them you’ll need to beat Battle Arena as both superhero spouses. No thanks.

I’m sure it is obvious now from this post and the previous one that I have not had a good time with The Incredibles. A part of me is deeply curious if anything got better in the sequel The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer, but maybe I should just retire my superhero cape at the ripe age of thirty-one. Also: no capes.

New ways to celebrate mediocrity with The Incredibles

gd incredibles playstation2 impressions

I ended up getting a copy of The Incredibles videogame for the PlayStation 2 last summer as part of a small birthday celebration for myself. Please note, I also snagged Suikoden Tactics and Star Ocean Till the End of Time with this, and, of the three, it’s the first one I’ve actually put into my system to play since that package arrived. Yup, some seven months later, I’m just blindly trusting that these used videogames from Amazon arrived in working condition. I mean, yeah, I’ll find out eventually.

Anyways, The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar film. I say that now, in 2015, with total confidence, and have been saying it since the movie saw release in 2004. Y’know, a decade ago. I also suspect that I will continue saying this for many more years, possibly all the years. There’s a lot of reasons why The Incredibles is incredible, and I’ll list a few for those in the know: Brad Bird, monologues, subsurface scattering, Syndrome’s hair, that little kid on the tricycle, capes, no capes, the colors, 1960s homages, the mysterious Mirage, and so on. It’s a funny story about superheroes, but also about family and what it can cost to stay together, to be happy. I watch it every few months as it is one of my top 31 favorite ways to eat up time.

I promise I’ll talk about the letdown that, so far, is The Incredibles on the PlayStation 2, but I first need to lay some groundwork. First, the movie. I was in college and saw it on or around its opening weekend with a girl I was dating then, who we will call the Giraffe, and it instantly blew me my mind. Like, sure, I understood the concept of a “children’s film for adults,” but here was something else, something bigger. It didn’t dumb itself down for the wee ones, and it kept the serious moments super serious. Fast forward a bit, and I’m on my way home from a Spring Break trip in Las Vegas, NV, unfortunately taking a red-eye flight back to Camden. Now, I’m already terrified of planes, and so while everyone else slept, I sat staring at the back of the seat in front of me, sweating like a pig. Until I discovered my girlfriend’s GameBoy Advance and a copy of The Incredibles for it. It didn’t pass all the hours, but it definitely helped; alas, the GBA version is quite different from those released for consoles, playing it as a straightforward side-scrolling beat-em-up, and you can see it in action over here.

I knew that The Incredibles for PlayStation 2 was not the same game I had played on that flight many years back, but it still seemed promising. The movie’s entire makeup is perfectly designed for a videogame: you have a small cast of characters, each with varying special powers, ending up in dangerous situations, all trying to save the world from a man-boy gone mad who has an army of goons and robots to toss at you. Alas, it turned out to be a vapid, uninspired retread of the movie, with an out-of-nowhere difficulty spike, which forces one to use cheat codes to get through it. Hate to remind Syndrome of this yet again, but you do need special powers to be super.

Here are my biggest problems so far with The Incredibles, and mind you, I only just completed stage 8 (of 18 total), meaning I’m a little bit over one-third of the way through it, but boy howdy I’m not thrilled about what’s to come.

It’s boring. The levels are extremely linear, and the one or two occasions it allows you to explore reveal nothing, save for maybe a single “secret bonus item” unlock collectible, which devolves into uninteresting concept art. It’s certainly no this. At this point, I’ve played as Mr. Incredible six times, once as Elastigirl, and once as Dash. Wait, real quick–the game and its manual seem to go out of its way to never refer to Elastigirl as such, calling her Helen or Mrs. Incredible only, strangely stripping her of her identity, even labeling her this in a level that takes place before she gets married. The levels for Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are of the action adventure style, with slivers of variety, such as a turret sequence, and the Dash level was an atrocious free-runner style thing that I’ll have more on in a sec.

It’s confusing. Look, I know the movie inside and out. I have to imagine anyone coming to this game also knows the movie pretty well or would at least see it first before playing the action game based on it. If they didn’t, well…this will make zero sense. Small, condensed scenes from Pixar’s film are used between levels to bridge the gaps, but it does little to explain why so-and-so is here, doing this, wearing that. One level you are playing as an overweight Mr. Incredible in his old-timey blue costume, and the very next level you have him looking fit and all donned up in Edna’s new design. I know how he got there, but many won’t if they are relying on this for plot. Also, you rarely get told what to do in a level or where to go next, though there are only so many options at hand.

It’s too difficult. Maybe this is my fault, coming to The Incredibles and assuming it was a child-friendly beat-em-up with additional elements, but certainly something easy. Most levels, based on a quick scan of YouTube replays, take about eight to ten minutes to finish, while I was averaging more around 30 minutes. This is due to many deaths, but also frustration at overly difficult sections, sequences I just can’t imagine a young gamer getting through without repeated tries or external help. In some levels, if you miss a platform jump, you have to return to the start of the scenario yourself and start again, and it doesn’t help that the camera makes it challenging to tell how far a jump is. In that level where Dash has to race the school bus, the checkpoint systems seems oddly tiered, often working against progress. The only way I was able to beat the Omnidroid in stage 8 “Volcanic Eruption” was to spam health replenish and Incredi-move cheat codes. I don’t know, maybe I’m just terrible at games, thinks the dude that did beat Yama on a Daily Challenge last year.

The short of it is this: The Incredibles is not as incredible as the movie. I’m going to finish playing it, because that’s who I am, but like that tricycle kid hanging around the Parr’s driveway, I’ll still be waiting for something amazing to happen.