Tag Archives: puzzles

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Unmechanical: Extended

I’ve tried playing through Unmechanical twice now, once on the PC and the second time on my PlayStation 3 with the Unmechanical: Extended edition. I feel like I got as far as I did in both games, which was not very far along if I’m being honest, stopping around the same point, somewhere deep in the mines section. I really wanted to like this puzzle-topia starring an ultra cute robot, but the puzzles eventually became too much for my tiny brain to figure out. Some are logical, and some are physics-based, but if all I’m doing is looking up solution after solution online, I don’t see the point of playing a game at all.

Unmechanical: Extended is a somewhat enhanced version of the original game, with an additional episode included to complete. This is first and foremost a puzzle adventure that combines tricky puzzle solving, exploration, and an engrossing if depressing atmosphere set amid tubes and machinery and underground tunnels. Taking place in a world of flesh, rock, and steel, your robot’s journey to freedom requires you to solve a great variety of puzzling challenges. Alas, my robot friend will never be free, and for that I am deeply sorry.

The controls aren’t too complicated. There are only three real options when you are controlling your robot buddy: moving it with the joystick, pushing a button to get a basic hint, and every other button on your controller activates your tractor beam; however, you have to hold down the button to keep your tractor beam engaged, and the beam can help move objects or activate levers. Some puzzles are self-contained in solitary rooms, while others are spread out across multiple areas, requiring you to travel back and forth, which can be quite frustrating and confusing, depending on the state of your memory.

Unmechanical: Extended is actually more than frustrating. Talawa Games clearly knows how to craft intricate puzzles, but the reliance on backtracking is a big ol’ bummer. The game’s world could have been a little more fleshed out, and the environments and additional robot critters all look rather bland or same-y. I don’t think I could really tell you what the actual plot is other than…escaping something, and maybe the additional content explores this further. It also sounds like there’s little to no replay value here, not that I’ll ever know. Lastly, the hint system. This should theoretically help players move forward, but the hints appear as thought bubbles or sometimes just a question mark, which feels too obtuse more than helpful.

Maybe one day I’ll give this another go, though I suspect I’ll get about halfway in and then give up because I just don’t have the energy to watch YouTube walkthroughs for the more complicated and involved puzzles. Sorry, Unmechanical: Extended, I just don’t have the energy.

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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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.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Sparkle 2

I never played Sparkle 1, if it was even called that, but I can’t imagine it being too different from Sparkle 2, today’s game du jour for being on the chopping board. I feel like I’m making a good dent on this sojourn of mine to rid myself of all these PlayStation Plus titles, but there are still so many left on my PlayStation 3 to go through. Woe is me, I know. How I must suffer at the hands of all these freebies of varying quality.

Anyways, Sparkle 2 is a marble shooter action puzzle game–woah, that’s way too many adjectives–that tasks you with eliminating snake-like lines of colored balls by matching three of them to make them vanish. Yup, it’s a match three, but the twist of the lines moving along a path helps keep the experience somewhat fresh. I say somewhat because, well, there’s only so much that can be done with a match three style game. I dip into these every now and then, such as with Tumblestone, Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight, and Adventure Pop, but never hang around for too long. Actually, the only one I truly continue to check in on these days is Gems of War, and that’s probably more because it reminds me so much of Puzzle Quest, where I really got hooked.

Evidently, Sparkle 2 comes with a story, a reason to match all these differently colored marbles. See, a long time ago, five enchanted keys were created. The keys were scattered around mysterious lands and still remain undiscovered. Many have come to find them, but alas, so far, all have failed. Now is your chance to shine and find these keys and unlock their secrets. It’s either that or join the endless ranks of souls forever trapped within this fantasy land. It’s honestly not much to go off of, but it is at least something, a thin carrot on a stick to chase after. That said, after finding two keys, I still don’t really follow the plot one bit.

I played Sparkle 2 for at least four hours, finishing about thirty or so levels and finding two of the five missing keys. How do I know I put that much time into it? Well, one, there’s an in-game timer, and two, you get a Trophy for playing that long. Go me. The game’s controls are thankfully tight, which they need to be if you are going to try and shoot marbles as quickly as possible at moving targets. There’s no guide though, so you have to do your best to line things up, and some power-ups help more than others. I really liked the one that turned into a bunch of fireflies to clear out multiple balls at once.

Well, I’ll fire one more colored ball, this time at Sparkle 2 itself, eliminating it from my PlayStation 3 and making room for whatever PS Plus game is next to cross my path.

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 – Another World

Another World is an adventuring classic. At least, it seems so. It’s also known as Out of This World in North America and Outer World in Japan, which has only confused me for years because I always thought those were different, unique games…or parts in a series. Nope, they are one in the same. For those that don’t know, Another World released in 1991, and it’s a highly cinematic action-adventure platforming game designed by Éric Chahi and published by Delphine Software. The narrative involves Lester, a young scientist who, as a result of an experiment gone wrong, finds himself on a dangerous alien world where he is forced to fight for his survival.

Here’s some things I just learned about Another World, after giving it a few goes on the PlayStation 3 via the Another World – 20th Anniversary Edition version, which us PlayStation Plus users got for free this past September. It was developed by Chahi alone over a period of about two years, with help only on the soundtrack from Jean-François Freitas. Chahi developed his own game engine, completing all the game’s art and animations in vector form to reduce memory use, with some use of rotoscoping to help plan out character movements. Both narrative-wise and gameplay-wise, he wanted the game to be told with little to no language or user-interface elements. The game was originally developed for the Amiga and Atari ST, but has since been widely ported to other contemporary systems, including home and portable consoles and mobile devices…which is how I am playing it some now twenty-plus years later after always being curious about the legendary beast.

Still, I couldn’t get too far in this one, especially once it became necessary to fire guns at enemies and dodge incoming bullets while also creating shields to block said projectiles. I did okay kicking and jumping over the weird alien worms that fall from the ceiling, as well as running away from the dark-black hulk that chases you at the start of Another World. After that…everything just needed to be too precise for me to figure out. Plus, once you died, which always only took one wrong move or hit, you had to do the whole “rock the cage” bit again, and then try to hit your marks perfectly or be evaporated before you even knew what hit you.

Well…I just watched a full playthrough on YouTube (with no commentary), with a run-time of just over thirty minutes, which includes multiple deaths and restarts. Yeah, I don’t think I would ever have figured some of this stuff out. There are walls you can blast open to let you into new areas, but I don’t see how you’d be aware of them at all as they don’t stand out and the game itself never tells you what you can or cannot do. In one way, that’s freeing and awesome; in another, completely frustrating. There’s a whole section set in a cavern that is blowing my tiny little mind. I get that adventure games are all about exploring and trying your options out until they run bone dry, but again, with no text or inventory system…it’s seemingly impossible to know what is possible in a strange world like this. Also, all your actions require repetition to perfect.

I’ll give credit where credit is certainly due. It looks like Chahi created one fantastic sidekick more than twenty years ago, an alien being who communicated only through gestures and a small lexicon of syllabic barks and encouragements. I think its name is Buddy, but don’t put my feet to the fire on that. I’d place it next to similar strong standouts like Agro, Vivi, and Yoshi. Another World absolutely wrings every ounce of its low-detail scenery, flipping between perspectives and just overall presenting a world unknown to anyone. It’s strangeness is what kept me watching, wanting to see where it all went…which, to be honest, I didn’t fully follow, but I greatly enjoyed the journey from a distance.

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 – Master Reboot

Master Reboot is a cool name for a game I don’t understand. At least it isn’t ReBoot, a Canadian CGI-animated action-adventure television series that originally aired from 1994 to 2001…of which, I saw several episodes. For funsies, you should check out the intro and feel special knowing that you are witnessing the world’s first completely computer-animated TV series. A true piece of animation history. Too bad it kind of stunk.

What Master Reboot actually is…well, it’s not exactly spelled out from the get-go. I think it is an adventure game, heavy on exploration and puzzle solving, with a bit of spookiness thrown in to keep you on your polygonal feet. It takes place inside the Soul Cloud, which is a giant server that holds the data of your soul and memories when you die. The Soul Cloud is brimming floating islands, and each island looks like a town, village, or city filled with rooms, skyscrapers, and houses that hold people’s memories. To house your soul, a family member (or you before you die, if you are prepared for it) must purchase an island on the Soul Cloud where the server will generate these spaces to hold each and every memory from the deceased’s past. There are, evidently, 34 unique environments to see, but I probably only saw one-fifth of them in the time I spent poking at Master Reboot.

The game has a look, and I’d call that look somewhat simplistic. Low-fi and low on details. On purpose. I’m perfectly fine with flat textures and few details–I loved it recently with Burly Men at Sea, as well as countless other games that went with the less-is-more route–but here I felt like there actually could have been more. A few more shades of detail to really drive home being in a certain place, like a school or child’s bedroom. Also, the game doesn’t even try to hide its invisible walls, them appearing as red-colored shield-walls when you venture too far away from the main path, like you are trapped under a highly technical dome. I kept bumping into these walls, hoping to go somewhere else, but alas, nope, nope, nope. It was a bit jarring.

That aside, because I do think the story is somewhat neat and don’t mind the occasional jump scare, my biggest problem with Master Reboot has to do with its puzzles. More often than not, they truly tried my nerves, as in the case of a memory that forced me to drive into oncoming traffic or one that made me recreate an image from memory when I hadn’t seen the parent image in a half hour or more. Completing these usually yielded some insight into the world’s mythology or the protagonist’s identity, but they were mostly obtuse obstacles to keep answers at bay. The game definitely doesn’t hold your hand, and it’s up to you to figure out what you are supposed to evidently do; yes, I’m looking at you, puzzle that had me rotating tiles to form three distinct pictures.

I gave up on Master Reboot after solving the puzzles in the park playground level, of which I had to look up a couple solutions for. After this is over, you have to use jump pads to leap from one sinking platform to another. Please don’t ask me why. If you aren’t quick enough, you drown and get a screen full of code, forced to try again. I tried three times and said, “No more.” The controls are built for a slow-moving game about exploring a small environment, in search of puzzle items or tiny blue ducks that act as the game’s collectibles. It’s not meant for moving quickly from one area to another. Ultimately, it’s not meant for me to keep playing.

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.

Return home to familial strangeness with Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1

I am one of those people that grew up in the ’90s reading those various More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books by Alvin Schwartz, and, yes, I was extremely disappointed when they got reissued with all new art, illustrations that did not immediately make your blood run cold and stay with you for years on end. One of my favorite short stories from these horror collections–favorite is actually a weird choice here, but I think you get what I mean–was “Harold,” which is mostly about two farmers mistreating their scarecrow and then getting their just desserts. Both the story and Stephen Gammell’s intro art for it have never left me, and I mention all this only because Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 features a scarecrow up to no good. Alas, it’s not as terrifying.

Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 is a horror-mystery, point-and-click adventure game where you must find the truth about your mother’s death. It’s free on Steam…well, this first chapter is, and it should only take you about a half hour to get through it. The police came to the conclusion that Helen Lancaster’s suicide, where she gutted herself with a kitchen knife, was due to the grief of losing her husband. However, her son, Clint Lancaster, doesn’t believe a woman as deeply religious as her mother would do such a thing and plans to investigate. As you further explore your childhood farmhouse, you’ll discover that nothing is as it seems; in fact, things are getting stranger by the minute.

Gameplay is fairly simple. You can use a mouse to click everything or use a controller…though I stuck with the keyboard mostly. Like, the up, down, left, right arrows and the enter key; I’m a relic. Item use and item combination is all automatic, which some people may like, but it results in a lot less thinking when it comes to solving puzzles. Oh, this cabinet door is stuck? I’ll just immediately use this cane from my dead grandfather to prop it open. No, no, don’t worry, I got this for you. I really didn’t want you to have to try out all the other items on it first. Again, it’s fine, if a little dumbed down. Also, a couple of items are tricky to spot, so there is a small amount of pixel hunting to deal with. Other than that, you are mostly exploring different rooms in the farmhouse and watching them change as you go, with your true goal being getting into the cellar.

Over the years, I’ve grown to dislike a many RPGMaker-made games. They all contain a similar look and menu UI, and, at first, I thought it was really neat and awesome, but I’ve grown tired of seeing the same pixel art and character portraits and start screens. It seems like the “new releases” tab on Steam, on any given day, contains at least one or two creations like this. I don’t know if Azurael’s Circle: Chapter 1 was made with RPGMaker, but it feels like it; that said, it has a better design to it, and I do like the small circle of light around Clint, which does obfuscate parts of the room you are exploring, leaving room for scares and surprises. The writing, while a little rote in places, does a good job of leading you along, revealing enough dribs and drabs about Clint’s parents for you to fill in the rest with your imagination.

According to the Steam page description, there are three endings to discover. I’m not sure if that is meant for Chapter 1 only or the series as a whole. Not exactly sure how different of an ending I could have conceived as I felt like I found every item and solved all the puzzles, but maybe there was something I missed. Oh well. Honestly, I would have preferred not to see the [redacted] at the end, but that’s me, an animal lover. Looks like Chapter 2 is available now, with more chapters to go down the road, but this didn’t draw me in enough to have me foaming at the mouth for more. I’ll leave Azurael’s Circle forever closed.

Do the Moonwhale’s bidding in Legend of the Skyfish

You can play a good chunk of Legend of the Skyfish for free before the walls go up and you have to drop a wee bit of cash-money to experience more. This happened to me specifically at Mamachi Swamp – Level 04, which felt like an odd place to stop players, but whatever. I feel like I grokked what this game was going for, enjoyed what I played and saw, and am totally okay moving on to something else. That’s not to say I don’t suggest you ignore this level-based puzzle adventure, just that you might get enough from its demo section. The full price on the PC is $7.99 or you can get a mobile version for half that.

Legend of the Skyfish stars a young hooded woman named Little Red Hook, as she journeys with the Moonwhale, the “warden of the seas,” to defeat the monstrous Skyfish. Not a lot of plot to go on, but it is serviceable. She’s armed with a rather unique item, a fishing pole–kind of like how Young in Anodyne wielded a broom instead of a sword. She uses her fishing pole both as a weapon and a grappling hook, and you can upgrade it as you progress through the levels. Of which, there are evidently 45 levels to see, plus giant boss fights. I already told you how far I got in the free-to-start version so I only saw one boss fight.

The levels in this The Legend of Zelda-lite romp are pretty similar from one to the next, slowly upping enemy counts and puzzles as you go further along. Little Red Hook explores screen after screen, flicking switches, and using her fishing rod to return sea horses and puffer-fish back to their ocean home. At the end of every level, she hacks a Skyfish totem to pieces, which I guess affects its plan of total domination. The fishing rod isn’t the only thing our leading lady can use. Little Red Hook’s hookshot tool can be used to snare solid objects, hurling her from island to island, grabbing stone blocks to weigh down ground switches, and yanking enemies across the screen to impale them on spikes, something that Mortal Kombat‘s Scorpion would highly approve of.

I played my little bit of Legend of the Skyfish on the PC, using mouse and keyboard for controls. It worked fine, especially because the game is quite linear, as well as friendly and pretty easy, though I generally prefer a controller for this type of adventuring. You can generally take everything slowly, and that includes engaging with enemies or moving from one island to another. It’s a gorgeous game to look at, from the way Little Red Hook moves through large patches of grass to the ripples in the water to the designs of enemies and the way they react to our leading lady’s presence. It’s quite stunning at times. Less can be said of the action, which is repetitive, with basic combat moves, but I found it relaxing and satisfying at times, and the rousing soundtrack helps keep you hooked, pun totally intended.

Perhaps Legend of the Skyfish will be included in some future Humble Bundle, where I can grab the full thing for a few dollars and see more of this beautiful world, maybe even give this supposedly dastardly Skyfish its just desserts. Time will tell, for sure.