Tag Archives: platformer

If you play Pikuniku, you’ll get free money (not really)

With a name like Pikuniku, you’d think this game would be harder to explain or some kind of Pokemon offshoot, like Hey You, Pikachu!. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Weird, for sure, but weirdly simple, and I’m sitting here smiling just thinking about it. Before you read anything further, I highly suggest you put this game’s soundtrack from Calum Bowen on.

Right, so…Pikuniku is an absurdly wonderful puzzle-exploration game that takes place in a strange but playful world where not everything is as happy as it seems despite all the bright colors and bouncy tunes. You play as a “monster” from a cave and must help out a number of peculiar characters overcome struggles, uncover a deep state conspiracy, and start a fun little revolution in this delightful dystopian adventure. Down with robots, as they say, and don’t let the free money bit fool you; when it comes to money, nothing is ever truly free.

The main thrust of Pikuniku is its platforming, which I can liken to things like Night in the Woods and LittleBigPlanet. A bit floaty, but you can still get to where you need to go and, if not, try jumping on a tree, cloud, or citizen for extra reach. After that, there are several light-hearted puzzles to deal with, but none of them are overly complicated, and the same can be said of the boss fights, which are fun and easy, grandiose even, and that’s all good. I’m not a huge fan of splatformers–I just started to play Celeste, and I don’t see myself getting too far up that mountain–and sometimes I just want to jump around in a relaxing fashion and explore the world leisurely without being chased by some nightmarish monster or having to have super reflexes when it comes to pressing buttons and landing on teeny-tiny platforms.

As the red “beast,” you can run, roll, and kick things, and the animations for all these actions are smooth and hilarious to see happen. Plus, you can put different hats or cosmetics on the main character to change its look and perform specific abilities, such as the watering can hat that lets you water flowers to reach new areas via jump-pads. There are coins to collect, along with trophy statues and small scenes involving bugs, but all these are just that–collectibles. The world is full of fun characters to interact with, ranging from web-spinning spiders to round worms to people that look like they came straight off the pages of the Mr. Men books. The dialogue is goofy and enjoyable, and it is worth chatting with characters just to get a vibe for how they live in this world, and you’ll occasionally get a dialogue choice though it definitely doesn’t make a big difference overall.

Alas, I did not get to try out the co-op mode of Pikuniku, but that’s okay, as I can only imagine it being slightly frustrating considering the somewhat non-precise controls for steering your character and hitting rocks around. But it’s there if you want it. The main story mode is only a few hours long and pretty linear, and I played through it in multiple phases, usually pausing after a boss fight; a part of me wanted to go back and find all the hidden collectibles, but I didn’t get a sense that anything would truly come of it…so I’ll leave those for others to gather up. I wonder how many hats you can get, too.

As it currently stands, Pikuniku is one of my favorite games of the year so far. It’s delightful. It’s quirky and embraces its strangeness, and I love that. Don’t be surprised when it shows up on my end-of-year GOTY list.

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Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Cloudberry Kingdom

Here’s a rare happening when it comes to all these PlayStation Plus Purge posts–I’ve actually already played a small bit of Cloudberry Kingdom already, our topic du jour, but I naturally remember nothing more about it other than that. A quick search on Grinding Down shows that I definitely didn’t have anything to say about the game whenever it was I last touched it, and I don’t know how much more I’ll have to say about it now because…well, it just kind of is what it is. Still, let’s find out together.

First, some pertinent stats upon returning to Cloudberry Kingdom after what I can only guess is several years; my PlayStation 3 says I installed it on June 2, 2015…yup, so there ya go. I won’t go into them all, but here a few standouts:

  • Levels beat: 54
  • Jumps: 761
  • Score: 284575
  • Coins: grabbed 602 out of 637 (94%)
  • Total deaths: 40
  • Trophies unlocked: 1

Cloudberry Kingdom is an action platformer created by Pwnee Studios and published by that lovable French fatcat Ubisoft. The game uses a set of algorithms developed by Jordan Fisher to create procedurally generated levels that can be adaptive to the player’s skill level, in-game character abilities, and alteration of game physics. Whatever that means. Basically, the levels change based on how you play, which is neat, but I probably wouldn’t have known that unless I read it first before playing. To me, the levels in story mode feel mostly handcrafted, so if it is changing based on my lackluster jumping skills, that’s kind of cool. If it’s not, oh well.

There is…a story to follow. Or try to care about. Something called The Orb resurfaces and, with it, comes Kobbler with his mania and Princess with her endless boredom. It’s only a matter of time before Bob, Cloudberry Kingdom‘s hero, shows up to put order back to madness. Three powers struggle for victory, and the fate of Cloudberry Kingdom hangs in the balance. I really don’t know what to make of all that. Honestly, it’s like reading a short summary of something in a different language. Wait, wait a freaking second. I just discovered this major factoid–Cloudberry Kingdom touts celebrity voice actor Kevin Sorbo, the star of hit TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

I’ll be honest with y’all; I don’t dig Cloudberry Kingdom‘s look. It hurts to say because, obviously, I love cartoony styles, but there’s just something ultra plain vanilla about the graphics here. They look like stickers atop a muted piece of background art. The jumping is a bit floaty, but it’s functional enough, though the story levels don’t present much challenge; I’m sure if I got further into the campaign mode I’d come across some real zingers, but that won’t ever happen, at least not in this lifetime. In addition to the main story, there are four additional modes: Escalation, which throws increasingly tough levels at you; Time Crisis, where there is a timer that is draining gems to time to the clock; Hero Rush, another timed mode where you play as different character types; lastly, Hybrid Rush, an absurd amalgamation in which you’re afflicted by multiple abilities simultaneously.

Cloudberry Kingdom has a neat idea behind it, but it lacks polish and imagination. You can’t rely simply on Kevin Sorbo to sell your game…though I am interested to here some of his voicework now. I’d love to see the notion of randomly generated platforming levels explored further, as this is clearly just a nugget of an idea here. It’s just not enough currently.

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.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Pikuniku

Start revolution
Against tyrant, free money
Bouncy jumps, tunes, talk

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.

I’m sorry, Clanker, but there’s just no saving you

I’m still hiking around in this overpopulated landscape, chipping away at Rare Replay. I got the massive collection of games digitally back in the heyday during E3 for watching some streams via Microsoft’s Mixer app, and it’s been interesting seeing a lot of the games within it because, for the most part, I was never involved in a lot of Rare’s work growing up. This is probably because I never had a Nintendo 64, where the company seemed to shine brightest, and I also never touched a ZX Spectrum, where a lot of the company’s work started, under the divine name of Ultimate Play the Game. So far, I’ve dug deep into Jetpac and Gunfright, noodled around with the ultra difficult Battletoads, and not really touched anything else much other than to pop Achievements for basically opening each game once. Go me.

Look, I’m never not in the mood for a good collectathon, and I’ve always heard good things about the Banjo-Kazooie series. My first and only experience with the franchise was with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on the Xbox 360 some years back, which, while it certainly had a number of items to collect, focused more on customizing vehicles and winning races and building the strangest contraptions this side of New Jersey. Not my forte; I’m no engineer. On a whim, I decided to see what Banjo-Kazooie is truly all about. Turns out–frustrating camera controls and the worst underwater swimming section I’ve ever dealt with, but more on that in a bit. Plus, Jiggies.

Ultimately, Banjo-Kazooie is a mascot-driven platformer developed by Rare and originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It follows the lighthearted story of a bear named Banjo and a bird called Kazooie as they try to stop the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda, who intends to switch her beauty with Banjo’s sister, Tooty. Yes, those are all their real names. The game features nine nonlinear levels where the player must use Banjo and Kazooie’s wide range of abilities to gather jigsaw pieces, along with other collectibles, to get closer to taking on Gruntilda. Along with the jumping and climbing, there’s challenges like solving puzzles, accessing out-of-reach areas, collecting items, and defeating enemies that wish the duo harm.

I was going to initially say it’s mostly mediocre platforming, but than I hit a wall in the game. In Clanker’s Cavern, you have to free him from his chain that is hooked at the bottom of a low pit. It’s a long swim down there and, logically enough, it’s a long swim back up there. Most gamers would agree that water levels suck. Swimming underwater in these levels sucks even more, with the bonus possibility of running out of oxygen to make things even nastier. Clanker’s Cavern is the second level of Banjo-Kazooie that focuses on water, with Treasure Trove Cove being the first, and it contains its own demon in the water. However, in Treasure Trove Cove, you never have to deal with the fear of running out of air. In Clanker’s Cavern, that’s your biggest fear as you swim down to free stupid ol’ Clanker.

Right. At the bottom of this deep underwater pit is a key hooked beneath Clanker’s chain. To release him, you have to swim through the keyhole three times. Seemingly simple, yes, but that’s where they get you. Like I said… it’s a long swim down and a long swim back up, and if you don’t nail swimming through the keyhole perfectly each time, your chance of seeing blue sky diminishes rather quickly. Now, there is a fish called Gloop in the area spitting out air bubbles to give you a bit of a reprieve, but once again, grabbing them takes precision, and that’s not one of Banjo-Kazooie‘s bright spots. The swimming is slow and somewhat floaty, if that makes any sense, and I refuse to try and save Clanker anymore.

Perhaps I’ll just move on to Banjo-Tooie and pray that nothing similar to this level exists in that game; still, I’m sure I’ll find something just as annoying to battle with, but until then, may Clanker continue to be chained up against his will.

I can’t be alone in thinking Never Alone is cute yet disappointing

It was supposed to snow this past weekend, and while it did, all we got was a snusting, a new word I’m pushing to get into the OED. It means a light dusting of snow, in case that wasn’t clear. Anyways, this put me in a mood to play something snowy, and after scanning my list of games still to install on my Xbox One I saw it, the perfect winter weather game–Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa).

Ultimately, Never Alone is a puzzle-platformer developed by Upper One Games and published by E-Line Media based on the traditional Iñupiaq tale, “Kunuuksaayuka,” which was first recorded by the storyteller Robert Nasruk Cleveland in his collection Stories of the Black River People. I realize that is a lot to take in at once, so please, give yourself a moment before moving on. In terms of gameplay, you swap between an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her Arctic fox companion to complete puzzles and navigate the wintry landscape. There are a total of eight chapters to get through, and the game was the result of a partnership between the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and E-Line Media. It is evidently one of a growing number of videogames produced by Indigenous people, and that’s really cool. Too bad I found the whole thing frustrating and disappointing, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep creating games that celebrate and explore different cultures. I do want more.

You can play Never Alone co-op, but I went through it by myself, which meant manually switching back and forth between Nuna and her fox companion. At first, during the early stages, this was fine, but later you have to take timing into consideration and it can be tricky to get both characters to work in unison. I wonder if the controls would have been better if they followed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or ibb & obb. Anyways, Nuna can push/pull boxes around, as well as use her bola to destroy chunks of ice while the fox can jump higher and let down ropes from ledges. There are action sequences where you are being chased that require quick jumping, but most of the game is about moving from platform to platform, often using spirits as ledges to help Nuna get where she needs to be. This does become tougher later on when your fox changes and requires the two to work much more closely to get things done.

Look, Never Alone‘s story and its structure is based on the inter-generational transference of wisdom, and that’s mega neat. It is told in the form of an oral tale, and players are rewarded for collecting “cultural insights,” which are ultimately video vignettes of Iñupiaq elders, storytellers, and community members sharing their stories. These are all well done and produced, and this isn’t the norm when it comes to puzzle platformers, but I’d love to see more of collectibles like this. I ended up missing one by the game’s end, but the majority of them are along the main path, so you’ll find ’em easily enough and should dedicate some time to check them out.

Alas, here’s what I ended up disliking immensely about Never Alone. At first, the platforming and puzzles were rudimentary and simple, but became more time-based as the levels went on, which, when coupled with the fact that you had to switch between characters in a flash, resulted in many annoying deaths. The game is also glitchy, and I’m specifically talking about a tree I ran into during the last level that refused to walk forward; I had to return to the main menu and hit “Continue” for it to truly awaken, but this was only after 20 minutes of attempting to figure out if I just wasn’t doing something right. Ugh. Also, jumping and grabbing on to ledges with Nuna felt seriously inconsistent, and that’s a big part of the gameplay, so boo-hoo to that. I honestly thought, based on the first few chapters, that Never Alone was going to be a breeze, but found myself shouting curses at the TV screen near its conclusion.

It’s a cute game, doing really great things for the Iñupiaq community and culture, but it isn’t the most fun thing to play in the world. Sorry about that. I’m just as bummed as y’all.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #8 – Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)

Stop source of blizzards
Learn indigenous culture
Inconsistent jumps

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.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #4 – Where is 2019?

Hunting the new year
Strange world, solid platforming
I found seaweed, yay

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.