Tag Archives: pixel art

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.

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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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Titan Attacks!


It’s 2018, and I’ve never played Space Invaders, and I probably never will. That time has passed. Though clearly I’m aware of it and its influence on the gaming industry; I mean, you can’t walk down the Ocean City boardwalk and pass a T-shirt store without seeing those iconic pixelated aliens on some piece of unlicensed merchandise. Space Invaders was one of the earliest shooting games, releasing in arcades in 1978, with the goal being to defeat waves of aliens with a laser cannon and earn as many points as possible. It sounds simple to our ears today, but Tomohiro Nishikado, the game’s developer, had to design custom hardware and development tools to make the thing.

But I’m not here to actually talk about Space Invaders specifically, but rather a tribute from Puppy Games called Titan Attacks!, and yes, the game’s title ends in an exclamation mark, which will probably drive my editing eyes nuts, but that’s life. In this arcade shoot-em-up, you play as the last surviving tank commander on Earth and must single-handedly turn back an invading evil alien army called the Titans. If you can drive them back across the solar system, you might be able to defeat them on their homeworld, saving yours from total annihilation.

Titan Attacks! retains the same easy-to-learn and score-based gameplay of classic arcade shoot-em-ups, but does bring in some new features and strategies, along with stylish neo-retro visuals and a pulse-bursting, head-bobbin’ soundtrack that is ultimately the thing I came away from liking the most. Earning bounty money allows to you upgrade your tank-ship-thing with extra cannons, better shields, and special single-use powerups. While zipping left and right on the ground and firing up into lines of incoming aliens, you’ll also need to destroy falling wrecks, dodge hurtling asteroids, and capture escaping aliens. It starts out slow enough that you can keep track of everything, but the chaos ramps up the further you progress. Thankfully, you can take a hit or two and keep moving, though you’ll lose your multiplier bonus. No biggie.

I played Titan Attacks! for an hour or two, but didn’t get too far down the planetary path–there’s something like 100 levels/waves–before both taking too much damage and losing interest. That’s fine. I had fun for a bit, but this style of game is never going to hook me (as you’ll see in an upcoming post on Ultratron, also published by Puppy Games). Chasing high scores through repetition does not get me salivating one bit. Now, maybe if I could dress my tank up in different outfits and craft powerful weapons from various materials and check off quests one by one in some sort of log book, I might more interested in seeing this to the end, but alas, nope. Not for me.

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #127 – Potatoman Seeks the Troof

Pink Potatoman
Seeks knowledge–jump, run, don’t jump
Semi-enlightened

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Tick Tock Isle needs a backtracking timeout

I’ve tried a few games now from indie developer Squiddershins, namely Excuse Me!, Cat Poke, and Jables’s Adventure. Much like the developer’s name, these are cute, silly, and not run-of-the-mill experiences, heavy on the pixel art and charm.

For instance, in Excuse Me!, you are trying to find the best place to fart, generally away from as many diners as possible, but time is ticking down, so hurry it up. Cat Poke is a slightly more traditional affair, seeing you solve puzzles revolving around making cats happy while stuck inside on a rainy day. Lastly, Jables’s Adventure is a weird platform adventure–the developer’s very own words–starring a young boy named Jables who is told he is a hero by a visiting hat-squid and goes off to do hero-like things, such as beating up lumberjacks. There are more I want to try, but let’s get on with the show, which is Tick Tock Isle.

In Tick Tock Isle, which came out at the end of November 2015, you control a young horologist named Strike who is accidentally sent back in time when he tries to restore a clock in an abandoned monolith in the present day. Y’know, the usual Monday on the job. Finding himself in the past, with the ability to jump between 2009 and 2010, Strike stops worrying so much about fixing the clock and rather fixing all these damaged people around him. Like the troubled girl, who needs musical inspiration to finish her song writing. Or that grumpy married couple, with the husband that continuously says he’ll mow the lawn, but never does. The game is a spiritual successor to Cat Poke, which means there’s a heavy reliance on story, character interaction, creative thinking, and poking around until something eventually happens.‬

Sure, I will describe Tick Tock Isle as a point-and-click adventure game, but truthfully, there’s no pointing, no clicking. You use the arrow keys on your keyboard to wander around the mansion, talk to people, collect items, and use those collected items on other things and/or people to advance the story. Instead of clicking on hotspots and people, you press the up arrow key whenever Strike is near something interactive, which means there’s no pixel hunting, but rather up arrow hunting. Pressing the Enter key brings up a status screen showing your inventory, a map, and a list of objectives, all three of which are sub-par in actually doing their job. The map is crude, tiny, and hard to follow. The list of objectives are so vague that they might have all just said “Play the game more” five times in a row. Lastly, the inventory…it’s ultimately a collection of the items you’ve found along the way, each with a short description, and they become grayed out after serving their use.

To mix up the to-ing and fro-ing action, Strike will occasionally stumble across two kids playing make believe with cardboard swords and castles. See the pic at the top of this blog post for further proof. Anyways, entering their hobbled-together fortress drops you into a platforming mini-game, where, if you make it to the end, you’ll get a specific item that certainly will help you solve a puzzle. These are short, basic platforming sections, where you can also use a sword to swat enemies away, but mostly rely on timing your jumps and avoiding getting hit. They are a quick, enjoyable break from trying to figure out what to do next, but they also feel out of place, like leftovers from a game jam tossed in for good measure.

Tick Tock Isle is not a super long game, of which I’m thankful, but I have to imagine that it would have been even shorter if you cut out all the necessary backtracking to the top of the tower to use the time traveling device when you want to move from one year to the other. It’s tedious and confusing until you learn how to speedrun all the doors and staircases, and I wish it could have just been a button press on some handheld device that Strike carried with him always. I also will just come out and say that I didn’t really understand what was happening by the game’s end or its implications or the plot altogether, and there were a couple of tasks in my objectives list that I hadn’t crossed off by the time credits dropped. Oh well. I’m not going back to 2010 or 2009 ever again.