Tag Archives: platformer

All of Spyro: Year of the Dragon’s eggs are up for grabs

gd-spyro-3-year-of-the-dragon-ps1-early-impressions

I completed Spyro the Dragon, at 71%, despite the wonky camera, frustrating platforming, and that final fight against Gnasty Gnorc. Then I took on Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, collecting a mighty number of gems, talismans, and orbs. After that, I moved on to Spyro: Year of the Dragon, the third installment in the series despite it missing a number in the title, but alas, I’ve still not finished it off and most likely won’t…well, not the PlayStation 1 classic version I have downloaded on my PlayStation 3. Why, you ask? Well, there’s a little thing called Spyro Reignited Trilogy coming out next month–that’s November, y’all–and I’m mega-stoked to revisit the series with hopefully better controls and camera options. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon opens with a celebration in the land of the dragons, where Spyro and his kin are celebrating the titular “Year of the Dragon,”, an event that occurs every twelve years when new dragon eggs are brought to the realm. However, unfortunately, during the celebration, a cloaked rabbit girl named Bianca invades the Dragon Realms with an army of creatures called Rhynocs and steals all of the dragon eggs. She brings them back to the Sorceress, an evil ruler of all the Forgotten Realms, who scatters the eggs throughout several worlds. Spyro, along with his trusty lifelong pals Sparx and Hunter, are sent to recover the dragon eggs.

Well…my save file says that I’m at 64% completion for Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Go me. That more or less equates to 10,110 out of 15,000 gems and 90 out of 148 dragon eggs, according to the in-game Atlas menu. Which, if I can say, is really handy for tallying up all your accomplishments, along with the objectives still to finish off in each distinct world. This is good information to have because you often need a certain number of dragon eggs to move forward to the next area, and most of them are easy enough to collect, except for the ones based on mini-games, like skating or boxing.

The gameplay is, more or less, the same as the it was in the previous two games. In this one, Spyro will explore over 30 worlds, defeat enemies, complete puzzles, participate in mini-games, and collect eggs and the usual colored gems. He doesn’t have any brand-new moves, but the controls are still fine, if a bit iffy when trying to both charge forward and jump; often, I would just send our poor tiny, purple dragon right off a cliff’s edge. The camera remains a constant opponent. That said, it’s still a lot of fun to explore these worlds and find all the hidden-away gems or see a dragon egg in the distance and figure out how to reach it.

Spyro’s quest to recapture the dragon eggs stolen by the Sorceress is aided by a number of furry and fuzzy friends. Such as Bentley the yeti, Sheila the kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd the flying penguin, and Agent 9, a blaster-wielding space monkey. These characters are represented in unique levels to highlight their different powers and abilities, with puzzles only for them. For example, Sergeant Byrd, has large, open levels to match his ability to fly and long-distance attacks. There’s also Sheila, who has much more vertical levels to make use of her double-jump ability, and these sometimes look like a traditional 2D platformer.

Spyro: Year of the Dragon‘s graphics, sound, and charm all work together to create something special. Yes, even some eighteen years later. The character designs, while low on the polygon count, still show off Insomniac’s knack for creating iconic characters that are the step-stones for what’s to come down the road, namely the Ratchet and Clank series. Honestly, I’m excited to revisit all three games next month, and I promise to get all them dragon eggs back from the Sorceress. Why? Well, mostly because they’ll be tied to Achievements. Ha, I can’t quit caring about those digital bursts of dopamine.

Advertisements

Jellybeans and commands galore in A Boy and His Blob

A Boy and His Blob has been a long time coming in my “need to play” part of my brain. Probably ever since I saw Giant Bomb‘s Quick Look of the game almost ten years ago and listening to the duders there melt into emotional puddles as the boy would hug his newly found Blob friend. That said, I can’t quite remember when I procured my digital copy on Steam, but I finally installed it a few weeks ago and played through a good chunk of the first world, which is set mainly in a forest. Naturally, like the good blob that I am, I have thoughts.

Before we begin, some background. A Boy and His Blob is a puzzle platformer developed by WayForward Technologies and published by Majesco Entertainment. It came out in 2009 for the Wii and, first to my knowledge, is a re-imagining of the 1989 release A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia, which was originally developed by Imagineering for the NES. Eventually, in 2016 and 2017, it made its way on to other consoles and platforms. Evidently, WayForward’s director Sean Velasco was a big fan of the original NES title and wanted to re-create and update the experience for the current generation.

Story-wise, there’s not a whole lot to A Boy and His Blob. The planet Blobolonia is threatened by an evil emperor, and the titular “blob” flees to Earth to find help. It crash-lands on our nifty planet and finds only a young boy out exploring the wilderness. Together, they team up in order to dethrone the evil emperor. Along the way, minions of the Emperor attempt to stop them.

A Boy and His Blob‘s gameplay consists of platforming and solving puzzles, which nine times out of ten relate to platforming or destroying an enemy in your way of a needed platform. The boy can only do so much and must use his Blob companion to accomplish harder tasks. He can feed the Blob various flavored jellybeans that can turn it into a useful item, such as a ladder or trampoline, and I’m not sure how this is happening, but perhaps it was part of the original NES game’s mechanics. You begin the game with only a handful of these jellybean transformations, but as you progress you’ll acquire new ones too. Some levels restrict you to only certain types, which is helpful knowing that you have everything at your disposal to finish the level.

The game is broken up into different areas, each with ten levels to complete. I still haven’t finished the forest one, the first area, but it sounds like there’s also a boss fight at the end these that will put your jellybean abilities to work. In each world, you begin in your rather large hideout where you’ll have a world map to select levels, with your goal simply being to reach the exit portal near the end. There are also three treasure chests hidden in each level for you to locate and pick up using the Blob, which will unlock unique items in your hideout that can be used to play special challenge levels. You can always replay a level if you missed a collectible.

I’m in love with the art and look of A Boy and His Blob, less infatuated with the way the game plays. The cel-shaded graphics bring the environments to life using vivid colors and thick lines. The actual platforming is not as precise as what you’d find in Super Meat Boy or Super Mario Bros. 2–yeah, that’s right–but it is serviceable, especially because the pacing is slow, and you can really take your time to move forward. I hope to, at the very least, finish the first world off and see a boss fight, but I honestly don’t know how much more I’ll play past that. I’m glad I finally gave A Boy and His Blob some time, even if the majority of said time was spent having them hug one another.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Aaru’s Awakening

Aaru’s Awakening is a looker, but not a hooker. Now, by hooker, I don’t mean one that is in the business or practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment. I mean the game itself did not hook me from the start, nor even after a couple of hours of bashing my head against it. It’s a beauty to behold, but a beast to play, and I’m glad I played it and relatively quickly saw that it was definitely not for me in the long run despite the gorgeous vistas and animations. In that respect, it reminds me of The Last Unicorn, a whimsical, romantic fairy tale full of gorgeous animation and fantastic vocal talents, but a story and pacing that I found quite dull and uninteresting.

Lumenox Games’ Aaru’s Awakening is a hand-drawn 2D action platformer set in the fantastical and deadly world of Lumenox brimming with spiked walls, falling platforms, toxic pits, enemy monsters, and various other pitfalls. This fast-paced game puts you in control of Aaru, a yellowy-orange mythical creature with two unique abilities–teleportation and charging. With these abilities at hand, he will travel through Lumenox’s four realms to defeat an evil entity…because that’s just what you do if your world is under attack.

Anyways, these two abilities are essential to Aaru’s Awakening and help it stand out as something more than a typical action platformer. The game’s levels require you to make split-second decisions while also completing ultra-hyper fast puzzles. Imagine while doing your taxes on a 30-second time limit and then you also had to decide between saving your wife from a bear or your child from a shark. Know the answer? Go. Aaru can perform a charge, which is basically a flying headbutt that can bash through stone walls, as well as extend your jump a few feet. Aaru can also teleport by firing an orb and appearing at any point in the orb’s trajectory. If that sounds tricky, it is…sometimes you need to bank the orb off walls or floors or through narrow vents in the rocks to bypass hazards. It’s also Aaru’s only offensive weapon–you can fire an orb at an enemy and, as it passes through him, teleport yourself to it, killing the monster in the process.

I found Aaru’s Awakening to be one big lump of trial and error, with fewer successes than failures. Because of the twitch-based gameplay, you can’t recover from your mistakes. If you miss a jump, well…too bad. Everything falls, and everything is designed to kill you, forcing you to remain on your toes and react instantly to every change. Look, I don’t play a lot of these so-dubbed splatformers by one Vinny Caravella, but I did okay in Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, and the difference between those and this is I found them challenging, but not overly punishing. Every mistake felt like my own, and here it often felt like I just didn’t know what was coming up and stumbled with my actions. Also, and I know this is a silly thing to bring up, but I didn’t even pop a single Trophy after playing the game for a few hours.

Here’s the final rub…if I had shelled out full price for Aaru’s Awakening, I’d probably be really disappointed in my purchase. As it stands, this was a freebie for PlayStation Plus subscribers some time back, and so, to me, I came into it with no financial attachments. The game requires split-second timing and a lot of memorization, a staple in many platformers for sure, but to a degree that is simply not enjoyable. I’ll let others take a whack at this brutal beast, teleporting myself elsewhere, most likely back in time to play Donkey Kong Country or Kirby Super Star on the SNES, games I know aren’t the toughest, but still have a bit of challenge behind them that make getting to the end feel rewarding.

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.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #8 – Echoed World

Renew life, beauty
Just not through jumping, which stinks
Maybe promising

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.

Echoed World is only the start of Algiz’s plight

I played Echoed World for two reasons, maybe three. One, I thought, based on its few screenshots, that it looked real pretty, like Monster Tale at a higher resolution or a piece of sci-fi concept art brought to life. I haven’t played it, but I can see a comparison to Ori and the Blind Forest as well due to its hand-painted graphics. Two, it’s available as a free download on Steam. And the maybe three part…well, it kind of reminded me of the character-driven platformers of yesteryear, like Jak and Daxter, Metroid, and, uh, Rocket Knight Adventures, which I do have a liking to. You know, you control a unique-looking hero and traverse an environment for some big and bombastic reason. Either way, that’s what I went in with, and the game–really, a demo, a practice sliver–didn’t exactly live up to expectations, but I think there’s promise here.

Echoed World was created as a student project, with the team putting it out for free in hopes of receiving feedback from players. You know, like me. Well, here I am, doing my civic duty. It sounds like most of Team DOTS had no previous experience with game development, churning out Echoed World over a few months of tutored game development classes. In that regards, it is impressive; in terms of something you play, it is less so, but I am no developer myself, only a player that plays.

The best thing Echoed World has going for itself is its world and opening cutscene. See, the creator of this place made a decision to split his almighty power up into seven Architects because of reasons. By doing this, he became nothing more than just an observer, a mundane human being. These Architects reshaped the world so that it brimmed with beauty and energy; however, the Architect Tyr was obsessed with perfection and struggled to make life as good as everyone else, deciding to steal the beauty from other planets. You play as the Architect known as Algiz, who can no longer create brand new life, but is still able to manipulate life that’s already been created. This process requires many sacrifices as he makes his way across a slowly dying world.

In total, Echoed World took me about 20 minutes to see to completion, but that could have probably been more like 15 minutes since I ended up having to reload a section due to a physics error, more on that in a moment. It’s a puzzle-based platformer where mechanics and story are bound together. You move generally left to right and make your way to the end of the level. Usually, there are some obstacles in the way, such as a large gap you can’t job; however, Algiz can borrow life from something nearby and put it into the dead tree stump by the gap to make it grow and create a bridge. There are also doors that need a specific amount of life energy to open, requiring you to take back life you’ve already used and store it inside until you get there. Lastly, on two occasions, a monster will attack you, and your only way to combat it is by manipulating the environment so that it falls into spikes and dies. None of this is challenging, and the monster sections are a little underwhelming, but I could see these ideas being expanded into more complex puzzles, especially if you had to juggle both monsters and stealing/dropping life into the world simultaneously.

That said, technically, performance-wise, Echoed World is not great. Jumping is vital to a platformer, obviously, and the jumping here is beyond bouncy and unresponsive. I never felt fully in control of Algiz and where he was landing. At one point, he got stuck on the edge of a platform, and the game didn’t know what to do, so I was stuck, body half inside a rock, unable to do anything but reload the whole section. Also, there are collectibles to find, swirling balls of light, six in total, but after I got stuck and had to reload, the game seemed to forget that I had already found four by that point and started me back at zero, despite picking up what I believed to be the fifth collectible. It was strange. Lastly, Algiz is not affected by any of the game’s lighting, which looks odd when inside a dark cave and the character model is cartoony bright and vibrant, like a new layer in Photoshop at 100% on top of another more subdued layer.

Anyways, that was a lot of words for a game that honestly is just testing the developmental waters. I hope my criticism is well-received because, again, I think there’s something here. Echoed World just needs more time and polish.

You have 10 seconds to survive Sonic Blast’s underwater levels

I played some Sonic Blast the other day, and I almost beat it. I’m not going to tell you why I had the sudden urge to play a Sonic the Hedgehog game, nor why I decided to pick that one of all my options. The game originally appeared on the Sega Game Gear way back in 1996, but also later managed to eek its way on to the Sega Master System…but only in Brazil. Huh. Nowadays, it can be found on various other platforms through collections, even as recent as a digital download on the Nintendo 3DS. My version is found deep inside the 2004 release Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the PlayStation 2, which I got almost three years ago during a PS2 shopping spree.

Sonic Blast clearly wanted to–pun intended–ape the same style of pre-rendered graphics from Super Nintendo’s big 1994 release Donkey Kong Country. For sure, those Rare titles had a look, even if they haven’t aged well. However, to ensure that details are visible, both sprites for Sonic and Knuckles are bigger than their counterparts in earlier titles, which results in a “zoomed in” look. This means you get to see less of the level on the screen and will often not know what is coming up, whether it be a bunch of rings, an enemy, or a death pit of spikes. I also had this problem with Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge and Metroid II: Return of Samus, both of which put all their effort into ensuring you see the game’s hero up close and personal at the sacrifice of gameplay.

And, well…it’s a Sonic the Hedgehog game. You generally move left to right across the screen, jumping, collecting rings, avoiding enemies, and searching for the spinning signpost that signals the level is over. Usually, to get there, it’s a complicated puzzle path. There’s not much new here overall, though you can also play as Knuckles from the get-go, which I did not do. Sonic Blast is relatively short, about five zones long, with each zone made up of a couple levels and a boss fight against Doctor Eggman that tasks you with jumping on his spaceship’s windshield several times to crack it open.

I got all the way up to the Blue Marine Zone, which is the fourth zone. Alas, it’s mostly underwater, with bits of ancient ruins, like crumbled columns, in the background to begin questioning yourself on the true nature of this beast and whether it all takes place on Earth. Also, there’s a bunch of pipes that shoot you this way and that way and all around with fervor and strong water currents to deal with. Here’s the kicker: you’ll drown if you stay in water for too long. If you need air, you can either get out of the water, find an air bubble, or travel along one of the previously mentioned suction tubes.

Drowning in Sonic the Hedgehog games is not whacking the originality ball into space. It’s been there since the beginning, with a wonderfully haunting ditty to remind you that death comes at your fast and there’s no time to do anything about it and you’ll never get to see your loved ones again and the end is oh-so near. That’s whatever, but my main beef with the mechanic specific to Sonic Blast is that…you have no indication of how much air you have left. If you linger too long under the water, you’ll eventually get a 10-second timer on top of the screen silently counting down to the Blue Blur’s demise. That classic piece of music I linked to above does not play. Considering the maze-like design of this zone and limited options for filling up Sonic’s lungs, I was frustrated and lost all of my lives and continue credits in this one section, having had zero deaths up to this point as the difficulty wasn’t all that challenging.

Wait. Okay, no–I had to look up a video walkthrough to confirm I wasn’t missing something, that this was user error, and it sort of was. See, if you stand Sonic over an area where tiny air bubbles are coming out of the ground–because of science, duh–it depletes your number of rings. I guess that means you are briefly buying more oxygen, but it’s not very clear as there’s no meter or picture or even animation from the Legendary Blue Hedgehog to indicate anything is happening; a sound effect would have gone a long way. But just like how Sonic’s air supply was depleted, so was my interest in playing further, seeing as this dropped me unceremoniously back to the title screen.

In the end, my forty or so minutes with Sonic Blast was anything but that. What? You had to know a joke like that was coming. Anyways, maybe one day I’ll feel inspired to go back and finish off its final acts, knowing what I know now about air bubbles and rings. Or maybe I’ll try another Sonic the Hedgehog title in my PS2 collection, considering it has something like 20 games in it, albeit not all star the Blue One and some must first be unlocked. Or perhaps I’ll never touch anything Sonic the Hedgehog-related ever again. All are likely options.

Santa needs your help finding the new year in Where is 2018?

I am the dark, hairy monster-men in Where is 2018?, asking Mateusz Skutnik incessantly where in the world his brand-new game about finding the next darling of a year is…shame on me. I am horrified with myself and reminded greatly of this moment about entitlement issues. Having started this series of his with Where is 2016?, I’ve now come to look forward to playing these wee adorable and free things at the very start of January, in the days between break and work, before everything returns to mundane routine. I need to remember that there is a human being on the other side of these projects, and that art and creation takes time, energy, passion.

Where is 2018? follows the new path set by Where is 2017?, with a gnome-like Santa Claus being the lead hero and some light platforming–which is not ideal with a keyboard, but this isn’t of the same lengths as, say, NieR:Automata, so that’s fine–versus solving puzzles with a point-and-click method. You move through several rooms, moving platforms via levers and jumping to open doorways, all while hairy monster-men watch from the background, stoically asking their one and only question. The games continue to be fun, funny, and super slick in terms of art and animation, and I’ll openly admit that I did get stuck right at the end on the last puzzle, but so long as you keep at it, you’ll figure it out and welcome 2018 with open mitts (hint: windmills).

We are not owed anything, certainly not Where is 2019?…but if Skutnik makes it, I’m gonna play it. Until then, here’s to finding 2018.