Tag Archives: pixel art

2019 Game Review Haiku, #6 – When I was a bubble I could talk with the Trees

Tree time with bubble
Help, listen, explore the world
Momentary peace

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.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #3 – Nonsense at Nightfall

Take your sleeping pill
Become cat, mouse, cheese, pizza
Think it was a dream

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.

LISA sadistically plays with your emotions and expectations

I’ve only seen Mad Max: Fury Road in terms of the dystopian action series, but it’s possibly one of my favorite post-apocalyptic worlds, even if it is ultimately the most deranged and harshest on its people. LISA reminds me a lot of that movie, though there is much more humor to its telling and characters, and some of that humor works well with the ultra high amount of violence and disturbing imagery…and sometimes it doesn’t gel at all. That’s okay though. In this wasteland, where pain is living, nothing can be perfect.

Right, on with it. LISA is a quirky-as-quriky-gets side-scrolling RPG in the same vein as EarthBound–which I still need to get to ugh–set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Beneath this charming and funny exterior is a world full of disgust, moral destruction, and a general theme of “that’s messed up”; in fact, the game’s full name is LISA: The Painful RPG, which is a little on the nose. Players will learn what kind of person they are by being forced to make some serious choices, which do ultimately permanently affect how the game goes. For instance, if you want to save a party member from death, you will have to sacrifice the strength of your own character, the protagonist called Brad. This might entail taking a beating for them or even chopping off a limb or two. It’s pretty rough out there in this world of no women or children and only power-thirsty men. The story follows Brad as he stumbles upon an abandoned infant, a baby girl, who is later kidnapped.

Naturally, you’ve got all the standard RPG basics to manage, such as weapons, skills, limited energy for special attacks, and numerous stats that can be improved with items, leveling up, or purchasing new equipment. The combat in LISA is turn-based, though Brad’s general attack can be changed with manual inputs to do extra damage per hit, so long as you know the right string of keys to hit to perform the combo. Over the course of the game, Brad will come in contact with a diverse cast–and I do mean diverse–of potential party members that he can recruit by doing a range of odd and random tasks, and each brings their own special personality to combat. Currently, my party consists of Terry Hintz, who is not all that useful honestly, and someone else whose name I can’t remember, but I got them to join after listening to a lot of his sad stories. It looks like there are many characters that can join your party, just like in Chrono Cross.

Items in LISA range from mundane necessities to oddities like horse jerky, sweatbands with fire damage, greasy ponchos, and kung-fu scrolls. No phoenix downs so far. Stats are tied to a character’s level and equipment found or purchased from vendors in one of the game’s many towns. Settlements and towns sometimes offer respite from the outside world with places to sleep, which recovers the entire party’s health and skill points, but also includes randomized, potentially damaging events, such as getting robbed or having a party member kidnapped. You can also save your progress in specific spots.

Generally speaking, whenever games allow me to make moral choices, such as Mass Effect or Fallout: New Vegas, I always play the good guy. Sure, being a rude dude or scoundrel can be fun when it is make believe, but there’s a serious part of me that feels sorry for causing others pain or just being a complete dick for no reason other than to get a reaction. Yes, I care about polygon or sprite-based figures that are essentially just bits of code, and I care even more about how I interact with them. LISA makes being a good guy tough, constantly driving home the notion that being selfish and heartless is the only way to survive in a world like this.

Unfortunately, I think I might be stuck, unsure of where to go next. The problem is that it isn’t often clear where next should be, but also tied to the fact that there are hidden doorways and passages everywhere, and they are exceptionally well hidden. There’s some light platforming to do in LISA, with you being able to hop up small ledges, but falling from a great height will actually damage Brad and his companions’ health. Naturally, sometimes you have to do this to progress, but I can’t seem to figure out where to go. Of course, I could always look up a walkthrough, but I feel like I’m still too early in the game to be seeking outside help. Truly, this is the greatest suffering that LISA can throw at me.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – 99Vidas

So, on the PlayStation 3, each game gets its own like…splash screen, music, or audio cue when you land on it in the menu selection column. This is both neat and sometimes annoying. Case in point: when you go to play 99Vidas, our topic du jour, you get this screamingly high-pitched voice saying what I think sounds like, “Oh my gawd!” Except it’s more like ohmygawd as in one word, and something about it drives me batty. Other games on my list that also play a really ear-bleeding audio bit include Quantum Conundrum, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, and Siren: Blood Curse. These are not deal-breakers, as they actually push me more to play these games, because the faster I play ’em, the quicker I can remove ’em from the list.

Anyways, 99Vidas, which I believe is Portuguese for “99 lives,” is a side-scrolling beat-em-up developed and published by QuByte Interactive. The game is clearly inspired by classics of the genre, such as Double Dragon, Final Fight, Golden Axe, and Streets of Rage, all of which I played back in the late 80s, full 90s, and somewhat recently. 99Vidas features six playable characters from the start–and more unlocked via multiple sessions–though I only played as King, who seems like the generic go-to dude for punching and kicking. There’s a single player story-driven campaign, as well as multiple cooperative and competitive game modes, for up to four players, which can be played either locally or online. I will admit here and now that I only stuck to the story mode for my brief time with 99Vidas.

Each character has unique attributes, like speed and strength, along with an elemental alignment (fire, water, wind, lightning, and so on), which affects their regular attacks, combos, and special moves. I believe King’s special moves are water-based because at some point I summoned a giant tidal wave to clear out multiple enemies. 99Vidas has a more modern take on the brawl-heavy genre, with characters gaining experience points by defeating enemies and collecting special items that can then be used to upgrade their abilities, combos, and unlock new moves. This makes all the repetitive punching and kicking less…repetitive, but you still end up doing a lot of the same combos because once you find one that works it continues to work as your character grows stronger.

Believe it or not, there is a story in 99Vidas, and it’s a bizarre one. Some might even call it bombastic. The game starts when an artifact known as the 99Vidas goes missing. Uh oh. Now, this artifact is believed to hold immense power possible of covering the Earth in darkness and chaos. Double uh oh. The Guardians of the 99Vidas, granted the Power of the Elements, are bound to live through the ages to protect this artifact, which means it is your responsibility to face these forces of evil, defeat the Evil Boss and his six henchmen, and retrieve the legendary 99Vidas. More or less, go beat up everyone in your path and retrieve the shiny trinket.

99Vidas seems like a perfectly fine and perfunctory beat-em-up. It has some modern elements to it to keep things fresh, but I found myself getting bored playing alone, doing all the punching, kicking, and combo-ing, and the boss fights can be a wee bit difficult if you are running this solo. I got a few levels deep into the whole affair, but it hasn’t really drawn me back in. Others might really dig it, but I for one am now happy to remove it from my PlayStation 3’s library.

Ohmygawd!

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Vandal Hearts

At first, I couldn’t remember the name of this game. Was it Valiant Hearts? No, that was the dramatic Great War take starring a cool dog from a few years back. Was it Vigilante Hearts? No, though something under that title does appear to exist. At last, after some light Googling, I figured it out and everything came rushing back…Vandal Hearts, one of my first stabs at a strategy RPG, as well as the title that helped pave the way for future classics like Final Fantasy Tactics and the Ogre Battle series. Too bad this one didn’t really go anywhere. Also, don’t expect it to show up on the forthcoming PlayStation Classic…though I’m surprised that both a sequel and a prequel were later made.

Anyways, this Vandal Hearts is a turn-based tactical role-playing video game developed by my once favorite companies Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo for the original PlayStation back in 1997. It’s got a lot of what many modern, staple SRPGs have these days, such as Fire Emblem and its ilk: a grid-based map, a variety of abilities to employ, and rock/paper/scissors combat. Y’know, warriors with swords kill archers, archers kill hawknights, and hawknights kill swordsmen. There’s also healers, mages, heavy armor warriors, and monks to contend with–who later can turn into ninja, y’know like all monks eventually do. Your enemies for each mission is comprised of similar classes, and it’s your responsibility to exploit their weaknesses, and not every mission is about destroying all the enemies as other objectives are in play.

Vandal Hearts‘ story, as far as I can remember and dig up info on, revolves around one Ash Lambert, a young warrior tormented by the traitorous legacy of his father. Ash and his wonderfully named cast of allies have dedicated themselves to stopping a power-mad dictator named Hel Spites–what a name–from rising to power. It’s a bit traditional, but I liked a lot of the characters and dialogues, and there are some early twists to deal with that make their progress slow and, at times, a little dull.

I definitely did not ever beat Vandal Hearts. I probably didn’t even get too far into the whole affair as I knew early on that SRPGs just weren’t my cup of tea. Though many years later some titles would change my mind momentarily. I do remember being confused why archers were not able to shoot diagonally. Also, moving a cursor around with a PlayStation console was a chore and never felt fluid. Still, it’s a game I think about from time to time, maybe because I dig its aesthetic so much, or because I spent so much of my lonely teenager years hanging out with my best friend the gray videogame console adorned with PSM lid stickers, and the music is super solid.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Dord

Ghost dreams of knighthood
A casual adventure
Of strange combat moves

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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Lone Survivor

I’d never survive in an actual post-apocalyptic universe. That’s just the harsh truth, one that I’ve come to terms with long ago. There’d be mutated monsters stalking the streets, high levels of radiation eating away at our health, and my bone-dry skeleton curled up inside a bathtub because I couldn’t even bother to try to scavenge for food and water and decided that lying down and closing my eyes for forever was the easier path. Also, if the monsters are even the teeniest bit speedy, I’ll never make it due to…well, cardio.

And that brings us to the ever-so-cheery and delightful Lone Survivor from Jasper Byrne, which is a post-apocalyptic survival horror game with retro-styled 2D graphics and a somber-yet-sick-as-all-gets soundtrack. Please note that Jasper Byrne also contributed to Hotline Miami‘s soundtrack. Well, in this disease-ridden world, the player controls a nameless man-boy, who wears a medical mask, and…well, I don’t honestly know what this person’s true journey is, his desires. He may very well only be following directions provided to him via apparent hallucinations, telling him to go check out this room or that room or use violence to take out the monsters. For me, the clear and only goal was to survive, and exploring the spooky, grimy apartment building you are currently stuck in will reveal a staggering amount of special items, weapons, door keys, pills, notes, and a bunch of different types of food to help in this endeavor.

Lone Survivor is kind of like a point-and-click adventure game, but you also have a pistol and can blast monsters with bullets until they stop moving while trying to keep your hunger, thirst, and sanity meters in check, sleeping now and then too. Still, many of the items you find can be used on other items to solve a specific logic-based puzzle; for instance, early on, you find a pair of scissors and, later, when your passage is blocked by a bulging mass of flesh, you know exactly how to use them. You can also combine items together and even cook food for better results. Otherwise, you’re exploring the nearby hallways and rooms, hiding from or killing monsters, while trying to piece together what is happening and maybe looking for a way out. Your apartment, which has a bed, radio, and stove, acts as a mini-hub, which you can return to using magical mirrors and save your progress.

Silent Hill 2‘s influence here is clear. For one, there’s a man you meet in your dreams with a cardboard box on his head that will probably get you thinking about other men with oddly-shaped heads. Similar to James Sunderland’s quest to find his wife, you are running around a spooky apartment building brimming with locked doors, where things aren’t always what they seem to be. Also, there’s a terrible map system here, just like in Silent Hill 2, and I found myself getting lost constantly, unsure of where to actually go for main and side quest purposes. I’d rather have a blank map that allowed me to annotate it myself than try to parse someone else’s notes on it. Lastly, the shooting is almost purposefully clunky, which means you have to decide early on if you want to waste ammo or use chunks of rotting meat to distract monsters.

Evidently, your interactions with the game’s world and inhabitants result in different endings upon completion of Lone Survivor. Immediately, this stressed me out. I mean, it’s not like this is competing with Chrono Trigger or NieR: Automata in terms of number of endings, but still, now I’m over-thinking every choice I make, like whether or not I should take the green pill before bed because I desperately need batteries to proceed but this might affect the ending I get. Gaah. Given that a single playthrough takes around four to six hours to see credits roll, I most likely will only ever see one ending for this game, and it won’t be any time soon as I’ve already uninstalled it from my PlayStation 3, giving up after an hour or two of meandering back and forth, growing hungrier and more insane by the minute, not sure of why I have these items in my inventory or their ultimate purpose or how to even cook food.

Thankfully, if I ever do want to give Lone Survivor another mighty swing of the horror stick, I have a second copy on Steam, ready to go. Or I could return to Soul Brother, one of Byrne’s earlier projects, and a lighter one at that, if my goal is to feel enlightened instead of devoured.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.