Tag Archives: puzzle platformer

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Vessel

Vessel is probably a game I would have spent a ton of time on in my younger years, when videogames were scarce and my collection only grew by a title of two every few months. Now, I get free videogames to play every single day from all the various programs I’m subscribed to, plus the Internet is just full of freebies, and, frankly, it’s becoming a bit too much for my brain to keep up with. I’m not bragging; this is just reality. This ultimately means that if a game doesn’t really hook me from the start I don’t have to fret too much over walking away from it, knowing there are plenty of other fish in the ocean to eat. Sorry, Vessel, but you’re the equivalent of a monkfish in this scenario.

The main character of Vessel is M. Arkwright, an inventor who creates a liquid-composed, labor-performing automaton called the Fluro. He creates this automaton in order to perform laborious tasks more efficiently than human beings because…well, in the end, we’re all truly lazy. However, the Fluros begin to run amok and cause machinery to malfunction. In order to restore the machinery back to a functioning status, Arkwright must travel through Vessel‘s world and fix the broken parts, which more or less means solving physics-related puzzles. Expect lots of locked doors and levers and pressure plates to push.

A supply of Fluro “seeds” enables Arkwright to conjure these critters wherever he chooses. Drop one down, submerge it in water, lava, or even fruit juice, and a helper will arise, eager to assist you in solving the current puzzle. Different seeds provide Fluros of different behaviors too, as some are fixated on button pushing while others will chase you or seek out light sources. Environments often have grills through which only Fluros can pass, so much of the game involves working out where to place a Fluro so that it can run through a bunch of switches in the right order. There’s a lot of trial and error, of course, and, as with anything based on physics, not everything works as you expect it to. Sometimes the thing you control with a lever won’t stop exactly where you want it, but that’s okay.

Viewing screenshots shows that Vessel does not simply stay in the factory-esque world of the first hour or so of gameplay. Which is good, because it is both dark and boring-looking there. I almost had to turn up the brightness level on my TV to solve a puzzle. You will, in fact, get to go outside, and it’s a shame I never made it that far, as the environments look much brighter and visually stimulating than a bunch of muted machinery. Oh well, maybe next time.

Much like other puzzle platformers or puzzle-driven exploration romps, like Unmechanical: Extended and Quantum Conundrum, I played this for a bit before the puzzles became just a wee bit too much for my brain to handle. Again, there was a time in my life that I probably could sit and bang my head against the puzzles until something gave, but that time is no longer now. So, I’ll just let the Fluros continue running amok, leaving Vessel unsolved and in a state of disrepair. My bad.

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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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.

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #87 – Drop Alive

A drop of water
Switch from liquid, solid, gas
Not the tightest jumps

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #76 – Runbow

Colors disguise ground
Find your path, dash, double jump
If not, try again

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.