Tag Archives: puns

Harvesting gelatinous poop in Slime Rancher is pretty gooreat

I’ve had my eye on Slime Rancher for some slime now. Er, I mean time. Honestly, I will try my hardest to keep the number of puns in this post to a minimum, but there’s no guarantee. I just can’t help myself. Right, I first saw it being played on one of Giant Bomb‘s Unprofessional Fridays many moons ago and thought it looked ultra cute and fun, but knowing that it was in Early Access at the time kept me from actually digging into it. With so many games in my collection that are finished and still unplayed, I prefer to wait for the completed project–well, as completed as anything can be in this digital age of ours with patches and updates and game-changing DLC–before consuming.

Okay, let’s get to it because the sun is rising, the roostros are making noise, and those rock slimes won’t feed themselves. In Slime Rancher, you play as Beatrix LeBeau who has moved a thousand light years away from Earth to the “Far, Far Ranch” to make herself rich by farming…slimes. Her main tool in this endeavor is the vacpack, a vacuum-like/jetpack device that can be used to suck up slimes/other items and eject them. On your farm, you can build pens and corrals to hold slimes and other animals, feeding them their favorite food and collecting valuable plorts from their bodies, which you then sell for a profit, so long as the market prices board shows them up for the day. Also, I think the developer recently said they aren’t poop, but they are totally slime poops.

So, here’s the cycle: you head out into the wild, collect some slimes you want to keep at home, and return to build a housing pen for them. Then you must feed them what they like, whether it be a vegetable, fruit, or meat, taking care to not mix too many different slimes together because you could create a tar slime, which has the ability to demolish your ranch swiftly and unapologetically. Collect the plorts, sell the plorts, buy upgrades to your vacpack or access to new areas, and the cycle repeats anew until you hit a wall, which is usually in the form of lack of money or specific plorts or even where to go next (hint: keys unlock doors). You can totally stay close to your farm and earn decent money by rinsing and repeating certain actions, but the pull to go deeper into the unknown is ultra strong.

Exploration is a key element to Slime Rancher‘s loop, with myself discovering just a wee bit more each time I play. Early on, you’ll come across things you can’t solve, such as numerous treasure pods, and other things that are solvable, such as gigantic slimes that won’t budge, but the solution is left to you to figure out. Which is kind of nice, in this day and age of holding hands. The Slimepedia, the in-game guide full of details about slimes, environments, and other issues, is essential for learning how to get the most out of your day and creatures. Still, navigating to and fro is somewhat tedious, though one will get access to teleporters much later in the game, and your limited amount of inventory space leads to tough calls, knowing you can’t take everything back with you. You also have the option to upgrade your health and how much your jetpack can let you soar, which will open up more previously unreachable areas.

Slime Rancher is a peaceful, calming experience at times, but one without clear direction. I know I previously praised that the game doesn’t hold your hand, but that’s different then general steering. Story bits are sprinkled throughout via e-mails and digital notes scattered out in the wild, but they are not very interesting or give you any reason to care about Beatrix, these strange folk sending her messages, or whoever the heck H is supposed to be. And that’s a shame, especially when it comes to Beatrix, because she turns out to be just a vessel for you to move around inside the game and suck up gooey monsters with and not an interesting character whatsoever, which is a big ol’ bummer, as I really dig her hair color and style. Also, when I first started playing, there was no map, which made exploration far away from your home base somewhat tough, but that has since been added in via a free update, with more changes and features still to come.

At this point, I’ve done a number of milestone thingies, but still don’t feel close at all to calling Slime Rancher complete. For instance, I’ve unlocked the science laboratory area, which really expands your options when it comes to choosing where you put slime plorts and crafting materials and how you spend your resources. Basically, you can purchase item blueprints for machinery or cosmetic dressings for your farm, and then collect the required materials needed for each item to construct it. This is also where you gain access to teleporters. So, the decisions now come down to whether I want money or fun gizmos that can get me rarer ingredients, which is always a tough call. Personally, I just want to fill my farm with tabby slimes and have them bounce around and bomp me on nose repeatedly. I’ve also opened some cryptically locked doors…but to what end, I know not.

I’d write more, but all of my quantum slimes just teleported out of their corral and are quickly making their way to my massive collection of stony hens, eyes wide and hungry. Gotta go!

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Dragon Quest VIII’s photography sidequest is pretty goo

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I’m not fooling when I say that it beyond insane that, in 2017, I am playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King…on my Nintendo 3DS. Like, we’ve always known that Nintendo’s portable game console could run games from the PlayStation 2 era, such as Tales of the Abyss and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I never thought we’d get something as great and massive as Level-5’s magnificent showpiece. In my opinion, Dragon Quest VIII was a shining, blinding star in the JRPG night sky from 2004-2005, and the handheld version is mostly on par with that definitive claim, with some additions that I like and subtractions I dislike.

You’ll surely remember that I tried to go back to my Dragon Quest VIII PS2 save some years back. My return to the kingdom of Trodain didn’t last long. I had already put in over 80 hours because, at the time that I got the game, in my first studio apartment in Clifton, NJ, I declined getting Internet/TV services for a few months to save money. Thus, I was left with entertaining myself in the evenings, and that ended up being a lot of reading, some drawing, and, well, Dragon Questing. It was hard going back and remembering where I left off and what to do next. I certainly never beat the game, but couldn’t find the main path again to focus on, instead spending a few hours in the casino or chasing after monsters to capture for the fighting arena. I’m hoping to make a more direct run to the credits in the 3DS version and save some of the bonus side stuff for later, if possible.

A plot reminder, because these games have plots, even if they are somewhat convoluted: the game begins with Dhoulmagus, the court jester of the kingdom of Trodain, stealing an ancient scepter. He then casts a spell on Trodain castle, which turns King Trode into a tiny troll-like thing and Princess Medea into a horse. Unfortunately, everyone else in the castle becomes plants. That is, except you. Yup, the nameless, voiceless Trodain guard–lucky devil. Together, the three of you set out on a quest to find Dhoulmagus and reverse his spell. Along the way, you join up with some colorful characters: Yangus, a bandit who owes his life to the protagonist (I named him Pauly this time instead of Taurust_), Jessica, a scantily clad mage looking to avenge her murdered brother, and Angelo, a Templar Knight that likes to flirt and gamble.

Let’s just get to it and talk about the differences in the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VIII, as there are several. All right, in we go.

Evidently, you get two new playable characters–Red the bandit queen and Morrie, the owner and operator of the monster battling arena–but I’ve read you don’t gain access to them until late in the game, both entering your party at level 35. Not sure how I feel about that, as there’s a comfort and familiarity to the initial team of four, especially after you figure out how each character works best and spec them in that way (Angelo = healing, Yangus = tank, etc.). Being able to see monsters on the world map and avoid them at your discretion is great and something I look for in nearly every new RPG. The alchemy pot–always a staple in Level-5 joints–is no longer on an unseen timer and simply creates what you want when you want it, as well as provides suggestions for items you can mix with one another. Lastly, at least for small changes, as you gain skill points and upgrade your party members, you can now see when each one will unlock a new ability or buff; before, it was all guesswork unless you had a walkthrough guide at your side.

Cameron Obscura’s photography challenge is one of the larger additions and is quite enjoyable. You encounter this man fairly early in the game, at Port Prospect. He requests that you take some specific photos, each one earning you a different number of stamps. As you complete stamp boards, you earn special items. Simple enough…yet extremely addicting. Some photo requests require you to capture an enemy in the wild doing something silly or find a hidden golden slime statue in town. They vary in difficulty. Taking a picture is as easy as pressing start to enter photo mode; from there, you can zoom in, add or take away party members, and switch the main hero’s pose. Looks like there are over 140 challenges to complete, but you are limited to only 100 photos in your album, which means deleting some later down the road–not a huge inconvenience, but seems unnecessary. However, I wish getting to Cameron’s Codex–this is where you find the list of potential challenges that updates as you progress in the story–wasn’t hidden away in the “Misc” option menu; I’d have liked it to be in the drop-down menu on the touchscreen, where you can quickly access other constantly used things like “Zoom” and “Alchemy”.

Okay, now on to the issues I’m not a fan of. None of these are deal-breakers as Dragon Quest VIII remains a strong classic JRPG that does stray from its successful mold of yore, but I’m still bummed.

First, there’s the soundtrack or lack thereof–the original orchestrated soundtrack was removed for the 3DS version. What’s there is fine, but no longer as sweeping. The game’s cel-shaded cartoon visuals still look pretty good, but there’s a lot of draw-in when wandering around, which can make it look like nothing is at the end of some monster-ridden hallway, but there’s actually a red treasure chest there and the only way you’d know that is to walk closer towards it. Speaking of visuals, the menus, once full of icons, tabs, and visual indicators, and looking like this, have been replaced with perfunctory text that, yes, still gets the job done, but loses a lot of personality. The in-game camera continues to be an issue, especially in tight spots, and I have to use the shoulder buttons to swing it around for a better view as I, like many, prefer seeing where I’m going.

Lastly, there’s Jessica, who uses her sexuality to charm monsters into not attacking. I remember being weirded out by this some twelve years back, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. Initially, she’s dressed quite conservatively, but the minute she joins your party her attire changes to be extremely less so, and there’s even some needless boob bouncing. Sorry, Akira Toriyama, but it’s gross. I’m currently trying to specialize her in the opposite direction so as to never see the puff-puff spell in action. Maybe Red will replace her, but who knows.

All right, that’s enough Dragon Quest VIII talk for now. Evidently I can really go on about this game, as well as Dragon Quest IX. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I see both the later game content and stuff that pops up after credits roll. Until next slime, everyone.

Final Fantasy IX’s middle ground really drags

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I am freaking out. Not in a way that anyone would know by looking at me, but on the inside, and the inside of my insides, I am freaking out. It’s October 2015, and I’ve still not completed Final Fantasy IX, a game I set out to take down in 2013 and then, upon failing that, put in the crosshairs once more for this stretch of three hundred and sixty-five days. I could present y’all with a list of excuses, of things that got in the way and stole my limited attention span away, but it doesn’t matter. I’m in charge of this ship, and I have two months and change left to see Final Fantasy IX‘s credits roll, as well as every Active Time Event unfold.

Unfortunately, after an epic finish to Final Fantasy IX‘s second disc, which saw the ragtag group of adventurers battling the Soulcage at the Iifa Tree and then witnessing the power of Bahamut, the start to the third disc really drags. It’s got a ton of great stuff in it, but it’s all turtle-pace storytelling and character development, for nearly every character, and there’s little freedom put in the player’s hands, which means a lot of reading, watching, and doing as whoever is in charge currently says.

There’s some playful–and Broadway play-like–silliness involving a found love letter, wherein everyone who comes across it misinterprets its meaning. Next, you travel to Treno to participate in a card tournament; since I’m terrible at Tetra Master, I found myself nervously saving a lot and reloading when I’d lose a rare card to an opponent. After that, there’s the fall of Alexandria, and one could get through this seeing little action, but I did at least discover a bookshelf and hidden Tantarian in it, which awards everyone with lots of AP upon defeat; it’s a tough, long-winded battle, but worth it in the end. Lastly, there’s some action and cutscenes and rebuilding of Alexandria, with the plot pushing forward to have everyone go after Kuja with a smoldering passion, but not before trying to restore Regent Cid to human form. Spoilers: it doesn’t work.

After all that, I’m back to actively controlling my party–all members, too, even Quina–and exploring the world of Final Fantasy IX. Plot-wise, we’re off to the Black Mage Village. However, I can’t head directly there just yet. I mean, technically, yes, I totally can, now that I’m riding the ocean in style on the Blue Narciss, but my brain won’t let me. See, there’s abilities to be earned for all these party members by equipping all sorts of gear, and that means a whole lot of easy, but mindless grinding to do. I can’t not do it, I’m sorry. I need for every party member to have as many options as possible when it comes to abilities and spells to cast. Sometimes this means equipping weaker armor or weapons just to permanently learn these things. I’m sure there’s a saying that relates wells here, like to go forward, one must tumble backwards for a bit.

I think what I need to do is put aside Super Mario Maker, Fantasy Life, and Pokémon Shuffle as my late night, pre-bed gaming fix this week and focus squarely–pun intended–on getting my team up to snuff so that they can move and do actual story stuff. I care about these people and what trouble concerns their land, but I also care about earning enough AP for Steiner to learn Level Up so he can constantly level up faster, as well as Dagger to get every summon locked under her belt. You never know when you’ll need to cast that Odin or Ifrit, but you’ll be glad you can when the moment arises.

Final Fantasy IX‘s credits or bust.

Microsoft Jackpot makes sure the reels keep spinning

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Despite growing up right outside Atlantic City, I’ve never really had a deep desire to gamble away my hard-earned savings. If you can call tip-outs from being a bus boy during my high school and college days “savings,” that is. Unless it’s through a penny slot machine, where a dollar can go a long way. The siren’s call of ka-ching, ching, ching never sounded beautiful, and this was reinforced that time I went out to Las Vegas for Spring Break and saw old women in wheelchairs, an oxygen tank under one arm and a plastic bucket to gather money in the other, spending all their hours in front of the slots. It’s the sort of scene you can’t help but stare at–because it’s real.

Speaking of “real,” Microsoft is a real strange company. Remember when they were only mainly concerned over operating systems? Er, nevermind. Now they got videogames and consoles to juggle. When it comes to “casual” gaming, they have really cornered the market, at least on their personal devices, championing their own takes on Bingo, Solitaire, Sudoku, Minesweeper, Jigsaw, and Mahjong, all of which are free to download and consume. I’ve dabbled in just about all of these, and, truthfully, they’re pretty great, unoffensive, and inexpensive ways to spend a few minutes on your phone or computer while transitioning from one thing to another.

Microsoft Jackpot is no different. It’s the corporate company’s stab at slot machines, which are one-armed bandits with three or more reels that spin when a button is pushed or lever is pulled. These gambling machines reward the player when certain patterns of symbols appear after the spinning stops. They are still the most popular means of gambling, accounting for 70% of U.S. casinos’ income. All machines differ in terms of themes and bonus mini-game mechanics, but the majority of them work the same way, keeping players sitting on a stool, feeding their coin slots. I remember enjoying one once that involved frogs leaping around on lily pads, though I quickly walked away from it after winning a bit of money.

To play the slots here, you use money–shiny, gold coins–earned in-game as you go instead via your debit account. You are also earning points with each spin to raise your main level, which gates what themes you can try out. So far, at level 9, I’ve only unlocked three of the five themes, which are the Jungle, a James Bond riff, and Candy Boxes, and they all have different bonus mini-games where you can hit it big to, naturally, in the future, bet larger amounts. Personally, I think “Jackpots Are Forever” is the most interesting theme, with your 007 wannabe Jack Pott chasing after jewel thieves before they can escape via boat or helicopter. Granted, all of this is done by spinning the reels and relying on luck, but it is much more fun to watch than simply a flashing sign and music cue. Plus, there’s plenty of puns to eat up.

Since Microsoft Jackpot is a free-to-play game, there are of course ads to deal with. Some pop up right after you hit all the triggers to start a bonus mini-game, meaning you have to grumble and sit through it to get to the true action, and others can be watched once every half hour to earn some extra coins or lucky clovers, which supposedly provide you better chances at winning though it has never felt like it. You can also spend real money on fake money, and the “best deal,” for Microsoft at least, asks you to purchase 2,000,000 gold coins, 13,000 lucky clovers, and remove all ads for a meager $199.99. Your call in the end, but I’m going to lean towards “don’t do it.”

Perhaps my favorite or maybe the most dangerous element of Microsoft Jackpot is that you can set it to autopilot. Basically, you can select how much you want to bet, check off “auto spin” and “fast spin,” and watch as the machine continuously eats up your money, occasionally giving you some back. Similar to Time Clickers, I’ve been leaving it on in the background as I do other work, checking in with it to ensure I’m not bankrupt or if I am ready to do a bonus mini-game. In real life, this sort of feature could be crippling, possibly life-destroying. Here, it helps skirt the tedium.

I’ll definitely keep spinning the reels in Microsoft Jackpot until I can unlock the last two themes, as I’m curious to see what they do differently, but probably after that I’ll take my digital money and time elsewhere. Perhaps all of this gambling will inspire me to finally attempt that Fallout: New Vegas run where I bankrupt every casino on the strip.

When I look at stars, I will always think of Starbot

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I truly have a soft spot for stories about robots and what it means to be alive, to be living. Blame Ghost in the Shell for changing me at a young age. Granted, games like Machinarium and Secret Agent Clank didn’t explore this concept too deeply, but they starred cutesy automatons and got an easy pass. The only real standout example of myself questioning where the future of artificial intelligence can go is with KOS-MOS, which stands for Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation System, from Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. And no, I do not believe Claptrap is progress forward. However, Starbot from developer Cloudhime tackles issues of friendship and loyalty in an adorably sweet way, pushing cozy over sermonizing.

Here’s how this little indie adventure goes: two scientists have created a work-in-progress robot in order to fetch parts on additional satellites. While powered down and in a mysterious dream-like realm, this robot befriends a star. Together, they will travel to other satellites, all while avoiding dangerous sloths. In the same vein that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince explored companionship and loss in an absurd, surreal world, Starbot does this twofold, both with its robotic and human characters, namely Lilli and Mat.

Gameplay is exploration-based, using the arrow keys to move Starbot around and some other button to interact with people and things. It might be space and it might be Z, but I can’t remember now. Since this is built in the RPGMaker program, you have that typical stat screen menu that does not need to exist, though it does show you a list of any items you’ve collected. The dream-like realm is more of a maze, often asking you to go through the right door, collect a number of keys, and avoid crossing paths with sloths. Otherwise, it’s all about talking to NPCs, listening to what they have to say, and moving on. Don’t forget to dig through everyone’s trash bins like it’s a Pokemon game.

Now, not everything is clear in Starbot, and maybe that’s done on purpose. For one thing, the use of “egg” never gelled with me, and I still don’t understand what it meant in context to these people, this world. I mean, most houses contain a painting of an egg or multiple eggs, so clearly they are important to people, but I’m not sure how. Or why. Also, even though I read every e-mail between Lilli and Mat, I’m not sure I comprehended everything about their relationship, especially the metal arm bits. As is often the case with smaller indie titles created by a single soul, a solid round of copyediting would help strengthen the already strong, wistful writing. And yes, I’m available for hire, thanks for asking. Just be prepared for me to add about ten more puns to everyone’s dialogue.

Overall, Starbot took me about 45 minutes to get through, and that was me not rushing, really taking everything in, examining all items, listening to the retro soundtrack, and speaking to every NPC multiple times. You might be able to burn through it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. After all, good friendships take time to grow.

Meowgical Tower covers some fur-miliar adventuring ground

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I have to imagine that, for anyone new to reading Grinding Down, this blog is a bit all over the map. In the past few posts alone, I’ve talked about an old PlayStation 1 car combat-limned racer, a game all things DLC, my latest progress on replaying Suikoden II, finally getting around to Botanicula, with a few additional posts about tiny, indie, very far off the radar titles that are more about exploration than gameplay mechanics. In many ways, I’m kind of a cat; I move about the gaming industry at my own pace and course, taking great interest in various things along the way while ignoring others. Sometimes it’s a stuffed mouse to chase, and other times it’s a piece of food I carried over by the couch and forgot to previously eat. This analogy got weird.

Which brings us to Meowgical Tower, created by Neon Deity Games for GameBoy Jam 3, a happening that happened back in August 2014. The rules for the jam were simple though I couldn’t even make a sandwich out of these guidelines, but then again I’m no coder:

  1. The aim of GBJam is to create a GameBoy themed game
  2. All assets must be created during the duration of the Jam
  3. Keep in the original GameBoy screen resolution of 160px x 144px
  4. Use only 4 colors in your game

I think Meowgical Tower covers all those requirements. It stars Catte, an intrepid, inquisitive cat. While out adventuring one evening, Catte must take shelter inside a rather ominous tower to avoid getting wet from a sudden rainstorm. Unfortunately, this tower holds secrets, as well as danger, behind every door.

You use the arrow keys to move in four directions, the X key to inspect or advance text, Z to attack or meow if you are weaponless, and Space to paws…er, pause the game. Pretty simple stuff, and you’ll explore rooms that feel ripped right from a Legend of Zelda dungeon of old. What I found neat is that the key or levers you pick up act like weapons, but only until you use them; then it’s back to being a meowy, defenseless kitty cat.

All this exploration eventually leads to a single, three-step final boss fight. With who, you ask? The Labradoom Deceiver, naturally, which is accompanied by an amusing Borderlands style title card. There’s a pattern to learn with this boss, and it took me a few tries before I realized I had to be patient with my attacks, because trying to rush him for damage after gaining a key/lever meant instant death for the bold, brave Catte. After you take down the Labradoom Deceiver, you get a short cutscene that seems to say this was all done for…well, I’ll let you decide on that.

My two biggest gripes for Meowgical Tower are that you can’t attack diagonally, but your enemies can, which means you have to position yourself just right to make contact. Also, to enter a door, you really have to go at it square-on, otherwise you’ll hit its doorframe and get locked in the “push” animation, often taking damage from an enemy following up behind Catte. Knowing those two critiques is important when viewing my final statistics:

Deaths: 9
Game Time: 21:48

Right. This is just one of many, many entries for GameBoy Jam 3. You can play it online so long as you have Unity installed, for zero dollars. I’d like to check out some other creations from the jam, but with around 240 in total out there, it just might not ever happen. After all, I am a cat, and cats do what cats wanna do; you can’t change their minds.

Murder is an endless loop of murder

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Keeping with the theme of stabbing dudes in the back thanks to me finally getting around to playing Assassin’s Creed II, I figured a free little Flash game about stabbing a king in the back–and then foiling all future attempts–was rather apropos. I don’t know. I had some time to kill on my lunch-break (pun intended), and this took up a few minutes, made me smile, and gave me something to write about here on Grinding Down; I say that like I don’t have ten-plus drafts of other posts already in the works, but whatever. You can’t stifle inspiration.

Exot Working’s Murder only uses the spacebar key, but puts it work. The deadly stroll opens with you, a dastardly looking prince all in purple, carrying a dagger and tiptoeing behind the king. You hold down the spacebar key to charge up your dagger strike, but must left go if the king turns around before you are ready to strike; if you don’t, you’re caught by guards and tossed in a cell to rot to your bones. Once you kill the king, it becomes your turn to be paranoid, now donning his clothes and using the spacebar key to catch potential murderers in their tracks. You’ll do this enough to eventually fill up your prison with skeletons, but time is passing all the while, and you’ll ultimately succumb to nature’s cruel call. Then the loop begins anew.

That’s it. One button, one goal. On my first run, I got to be king once, but got stabbed in the back by some javelin-wielding jester before old age could claim me. The second run saw me live out the entire lives of two kings, though it ended after that. I wonder if that’s as far as you can go. Alas, not much changes the further you progress, and I’d have liked to see an aging king’s reflexes factor into pressing the spacebar key. Obviously, he should not be as swift as his younger self. Also, though I never saw if they do murder you or not, I feel bad about tossing all those wrinkly butlers into prison; I have to assume it was poison in their bottles, but it also totally could’ve been a vintage Shiraz, my favorite.

Murder is darkly humorous, but Saturday morning cartoon fun. Er, wait. Maybe not Saturday morning exactly, but of the Ren & Stimpy time slot. Entertaining, but with a seedier slant. I found the artwork to be cute, the animation to be better–especially when the guards come to haul you away and kick you into a skeleton-infested dungeon cell–and the looping drumbeat to be in line with a good march down a royal hallway. This will not blow you away or even take up more than ten minutes of your existence, but it’ll at least give you some training in not getting stabbed in the back by those closest to you.