Tag Archives: splatformers

Celeste: jump up, jump up, and get down

I went into Celeste with hesitation. It’s a splatformer, also know as an extremely difficult type of action platformer, and while I somehow was able to beat Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, I’ve never been great at these games. They require steady fingers and precise timing and, above all, patience, a quality I pride myself on having…but only to a point. For instance, I really don’t like unnecessarily aggressive drivers; here, let me tell you a recent story of an interaction I had the other week. A light was turning yellow, and I didn’t believe I could make it through so I slowed and stopped just as it turned red. The car behind me was annoyed at this; the driver was a middle-aged man on his cell phone, and he threw his unoccupied hand up in disgust and then flipped me the middle finger. My response? I waved cheerfully at him. There’s just no need for any of that, sir.

Anyways, Celeste is a platformer in which players control a girl named Madeline as she makes her way up a mountain while avoiding various deadly obstacles, such as spike pits and shadow beings. Along with jumping and climbing up walls for a limited amount of time, Madeline has the ability to perform a mid-air dash in the eight cardinal and intercardinal directions. This move can only be performed once and must be replenished by either landing on the ground, hitting certain objects, such as replenishing crystals, or moving to a new screen. Throughout each level, the player will encounter additional mechanics, such as springs that launch the player or feathers that allow for moments of brief flight.

Celeste is at its core a 2D platformer–you run, jump, climb walls, and air-dash. There’s no picking up special items, upgrading stats, or finding costumes that give you the power to shoot lightning from your hands or spit fireballs. You may occasionally grab strawberries, which are mostly collectibles to boast about your excellent masochistic platforming skills. They serve no greater purpose than tempting you to perform non-mandatory challenges liberally sprinkled onto each stage, and I’ve gotten a few here and there, but have no intention of going after all of them, as some definitely look extremely tricky to grab.

Here’s some light praise: Celeste has some of the best 2D pixel art I’ve ever seen. Clearly inspired by the sprites of the SNES era, the characters and environments are both vibrant and memorable, adding a beauty to a genre known for being somewhat ugly or more focused on killing you so quickly you have no time to take anything in. These gorgeous visuals are backed by a soundtrack from Lena Raine, whose synthy chiptune beats will time travel you back to the days off Donkey Kong Country and, more recently, Fez and FTL: Faster Than Light. Lastly, the adventure is constructed together by a low-poly 3D model of Celeste Mountain that helps to convey the scale and trajectory of the climb, as well as serving as a level select.

I’m not that far in Celeste, just a couple chapters, and a part of me worries that it is only going to get more difficult as I climb higher. I mean, that would only make sense; games often ease you into the challenge, unless you are Dark Souls then there are no rules. Still, there’s something called Assist Mode, which I may need to look into further. Evidently, there’s a handful of options available to cycle through at will, like becoming invincible, extending the all-important air dash ability, and slowing the whole game down in 10% intervals. Assist Mode allows for any combination of these to work at any time; for example, if my redheaded-climber keeps landing on spikes, I could just turn her invincible for a hot second to alleviate the pain and bypass the obstacle, and while some might see this as cheating or cheesing the game…I certainly don’t. In fact, this type of stuff allows me to experience more of the game, which is a good thing.

With that, I can hear the mountain calling me back. May I reach its top in due time, all in one piece, perhaps with a strawberry or two to munch on along the way. Perhaps.

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Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Cloudberry Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Search Anoxemia’s horrific ocean floor for a way out

I purchased Anoxemia at the same time I got Subject 13, and I played it for a bit before quickly losing interest. Both were relatively cheap, in terms of money, and so it didn’t weigh too heavy on my shoulders that I barely gave this a shot. Well, I’m trying to clear up some space on my Xbox One–y’know, so I can download more games I won’t get to right away–and I popped back into it the other night to see if it could hook me. Alas, it did not, and that’s a shame, because I love spooky underwater exploration, and this has that in droves. It’s just not fun to either play or control.

Anoxemia, which, for those that don’t know, is a condition of subnormal oxygenation of the arterial blood. It’s also a story-driven exploration game from BSK Games that puts you in control of scientist Dr. Bailey and his operations drone ATMA. Together, you’ll search the ocean floor as you discover and extract samples from the bowels of underwater caves. However, danger lurks in each passageway, everything from poison drifts to powerful ocean currents, leftover mines from the war, and mobile machines running haywire. Oh, and there’s also the ever-present risk of running out of oxygen. Fortunately, ATMA can help guide you to your destination using a few special tools and upgrades.

Initially, Anoxemia greets you with some stylized 2D drawings with some simple pan and scan animation, which does a good job of setting up the horror-driven story. Here’s a twist though…you don’t really control Dr. Bailey directly, instead using ATMA like a mouse cursor to make him follow along. Your main goal now is to steer ATMA forward and collect oxygen, energy, and contaminated plant samples. This all happens in a 2D platformer-esque fashion, except you are underwater, so everything is slow and swimmy, and there’s a lot of waiting for Dr. Bailey to catch up and perform the desired action. He needs to also dodge water mines, cannons, rocks, and lasers, which is not easy because, again, you aren’t controlling him directly.

The levels are relatively short, but there aren’t any clear instructions on what you are supposed to do. Death comes quick, and there is no checkpointing–at least not where I was early on–so you have to replay the level all over again from the start. Imprecise controls were mostly the reason Dr. Bailey bit the big one. As far as I can tell, you need to collect everything to proceed, while also not running out of oxygen or energy. Or getting hit by laser beams or heat-seeking machines. It’s a pretty tough game, and I think it knows that; throw in the dark, murky visuals, which do look great at times, but often obscure a lot of the environment, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Anoxemia also greatly lacks in giving the player any sense of progression. In any game, whether it is a platformer, an RPG, a first-person shooter, giving players the sensation that they are moving forward, making progress, is key to creating a successful game and keeping people hooked for more. Unfortunately, Anoxemia counters this by providing players with little variation in the maps and activities performed in them. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell when I was moving from one level to the next, and it felt like Dr. Bailey and ATMA were stuck on a ocean treadmill, going through the motions but ultimately getting nowhere. Also, the Achievements don’t provide any clues as to what you can or cannot achieve.

I’ll never know Dr. Bailey’s fate…though I suspect he’ll go through a good amount of torment before his finds the surface and makes it out alive. If that. Me? I’m not a masochist by design, and so Anoxemia has been uninstalled from my Xbox One. Maybe I’ll watch an online playthrough down the road, but for now I’m content with what I know, which is that ATMA moves forward and then, ten seconds later, Dr. Bailey faintly follows; I do not like that.

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.