Tag Archives: Steam

All I can say about Auf Abwegen is nein, danke

This might sound super obvious, but jumping is essential when it comes to platforming, and Auf Abwegen does not nail the feeling of good, reliable jumping at all. And without being able to jump well and with precision, there is nothing I could do to get away from the pack of bloodhounds chasing me, which is a shame because, for a free thing on Steam, this seemed to have promise from the start. Well, from a narrative perspective, that is. Oh well, you can’t win them all, and that’s something I’m slowly coming to terms with. Not everything can be completed or seen through to conclusion.

Auf Abwegen, which I believe translates from German to “gone astray” or “on the wrong path,” has you controlling a red fox in its natural habitat. This seems to be some kind of VR simulation, played by people up in outer space, with the implication that Earth is no more, and this is one of the ways they can experience what life used to be like on the forgotten planet. It is a one-man project from user Kindman, but there is nothing kind about the threats and frustration you’ll experience in each scenario you come across, whether it is simply learning how to go under tree roots or running so quick that you can’t see what is up ahead.

Evidently, there are three levels to master, but I think the one where the bloodhounds chase you is only the second one. Or it could be the last challenge, but I don’t really know since I couldn’t get past it after 40-plus attempts. Let me describe what you do in parts one and two. It opens with a tutorial section, where you learn how to move the fox; it can jump, crawl under roots, and run. You are then tasked with finding food for your family, and it is up to you to both figure out how and what you want to hunt. I got a mouse, a bird, and an egg, I think, which worked out, but getting these things was no easy task. For instance, there is a section where you are leaping from lily pads to logs to rocks in a small pond. Again, the jumping is so loose and finicky that landing on these tiny platforms is seemingly random. Chasing the mouse requires you to run it down–not sure how this thing made it across the water–and again, running fast and jumping here isn’t ideal.

However, after delivering the food to your wife and cubs–do foxes have cubs?–you enter the chase sequence, and this is where the madness begins. The fox can run fast, so fast that you can’t see what is coming up next. However, you have to keep moving or else. It might be a hedgehog you have to jump over or a gap in the ground, and you have to use lightning-fast reflexes to overcome these obstacles because the bloodhounds are coming, and if they touch you once, you lose and must start all over, bugle call and all. So it then becomes a game of memorization, but even memorizing what is next doesn’t help when the jumping is unreliable. Sure, some deaths I’ll blame on me, but most of them were me squeezing my controller in pure frustration because I had cleared a bunch of obstacles only to jump into a wooden log with branches instead of jumping over it because I didn’t press the button early enough. Ugh, no thanks.

I do dig the look of Auf Abwegen, from its science-heavy computer interface at the start to the hand-painted backgrounds of the forest, backed by a soft, melodic piano-driven soundtrack, minus that annoying bugle call signaling the bloodhounds that it is time to hunt. The cartoony parts, such as the fox and fish and bloodhounds, pop against the backgrounds nicely. There’s some decent voice-acting, though I think it is all in German, but there are subtitles to read, with only a couple of grammar mistakes throughout.

If y’all are feeling nice or masochistic enough to play Auf Abwegen, by all means, give it a shot for free on Steam. And let me know what happens after you get past the bloodhounds. I’m genuinely curious.

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2019 Game Review Haiku, #30 – vApe Escape

An innocent ape
Must destroy vape dispenser
To find peace, homeland

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.

I’m in it to win it with Minit

Minit was one of my top 10 games that I didn’t get to play in 2018. I have actually had a copy of the game installed in my Steam library since getting it via the Humble Day of the Devs 2018 Bundle, and yet, the irony here is that, for a game where each session of actually playing the game only lasts for sixty seconds, I never found the time to play it. Sure, I’m to blame there, but it’s not like I have anything super serious going on in my life currently. Well, the good news is that, according to this very post on Grinding Down, I have now finally played a bit of Minit. Not enough yet to win it, but I’m in it…still.

For those unaware, Minit is an action, puzzle-driven adventure thing developed by Jan Willem Nijman, co-founder and one-half of Vlambeer, Kitty Calis, who contributed to Horizon Zero Dawn, Jukio Kallio, a freelance composer, and Dominik Johann, the art director of Crows Crows Crows. It is based around time. Basically, the premise is that each of the player’s lives only lasts for one minute, resulting in tiny sessions of exploring the world over sixty seconds at a time. With each interval, the player will learn more about the environment and gain new items to help progress further and further. Inching forward slowly but surely is the name of the game.

It’s a pretty novel idea, executed extremely well. Other games that have done something similar to this, such as Half-Minute Hero, surely exist, but I haven’t played them. So, for me, Minit has been a truly exciting game to play. One, it’s a ton of fun to play, and the time limit never feels restrictive; in fact, as my little hero’s time winds down, I find myself getting excited to try exploring a different path on the next go. It is quite freeing. Two, I absolutely love Minit‘s look, which is clean and unobtrusive and does not end up distracting you too much when searching for something to do to make progress. Third, the usage of various home bases makes exploring new areas pain-free and getting around much easier.

Minit has you playing as a small bird-like pixel character–he kind of reminds me of a duck, but, y’know, a pixel duck with nothing more than a bill to go off of–who lives in a black and white world and is cursed with only ever living for a single minute. Despite all that, it’s an action adventure game just like The Legend of Zelda, with puzzles to solve too. The good news is that various actions do have permanence in the world, so dying doesn’t mean it was all for naught. For instance, finding key items to open up more progress stay in your inventory when you are reborn, and if you previously helped someone with a task, they remain helped. Thank goodness. This would be a much more cruel and nearly impossible game to play if you were forced to accomplish all this over again in your short-as-heck life.

According to How Long to Beat, Minit is a short game, roughly three or four hours long. I’ve already put about an hour and a half into it, so I guess I am halfway there. Although it has now been a week or so since I played it, and I fear I might have forgotten where I’m supposed to go next. I’m at the inn, looking to fill it up with patrons. Hmm. Wish me luck, and then, after about sixty seconds, wish me luck once more.

Grinding Down’s Top 10 Games of 2018

2018 has certainly been an interesting year, and not just in terms of videogames. I definitely did not complete as many as I have in the past, eventually giving up entirely on my idea to do little drawings to go along with my haiku reviews. For 2019, I’m just sticking with the much-beloved haiku format from the past as I have other art projects to focus on. Still, I played a good amount of games, though many of the games I played don’t really have an ending to find, and that’s okay. Not everything in life needs to see closure.

Some games that almost made my list are as follows: Detective Pikachu, LEGO Incredibles, House Flip with Chip and Jo, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. All four I’ve started and are in various stages of completion, but that’s not why they aren’t included below. I’ll provide a few more details.

Detective Pikachu is super cute, but a little slow-going, especially when you can clearly see the answer to a puzzle miles ahead of hitting it but are forced to go through all the investigative steps beforehand; that said, I’m absolutely stoked to see the movie next year. LEGO Incredibles is, well, not to be punitive, but another LEGO game, with all the pros and cons that come with such a statement. House Flip with Chip and Jo is one of the better free-to-play games on a cell phone, but it loses points for breaking for two weeks after some big update. Lastly, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on the Nintendo 3DS is beyond adorable, but I haven’t done too many levels yet, but I love how much replay-ability the levels have, and my need to complete all challenges in each one before moving on is uber strong.

Onwards we march, to my top 10 games of 2018…

10. Harvest Seasons

Look, this game is an idle clicker, so there’s no real story here or magically nifty game mechanics, but I constantly find myself drawn to these experiences because…well, there’s always something to do in them. From upgrading to planning ahead to simply clicking away without caution. Everything you do generally leads to progress, even restarting from scratch. Previously, I fell hard for things like Time Clickers and AdVenture Capitalist, and Harvest Seasons is another good one to have open on my laptop while I’m drawing my comic about colon cancer next to it. I wrote about it over in this post if you want more details on how it works; also, it’s free, and you’ll find a few more freebies in this list because not every free to play game is completely terrible.

9. All Our Asias

In 2018, I played two games from Analgesic Productions, after really enjoying Even the Ocean a couple years ago–specifically All Our Asias and Anodyne. One I was mesmerized by, and the other was fun and challenging if somewhat unclear. In All Our Asias, you are tasked to explore someone’s mind and discover their secrets in a surreal, PlayStation 1-like world. The story covers heady topics like father-son relationships, Asian-America, and race. I can’t say I related to everything going on here, but it was nonetheless fascinating to explore and see unfold. A lot of games come out now that try to callback to the PS1 or SNES/NES days, but none have been as successful at capturing the tone and feel of a time long gone as All Our Asias. It’s spooky and haunting in a way that a game drenched in fog, like the original Silent Hill, can only be. It’s not a horror game, but it leaves a mark in your memory. Once again, this is a freebie on Steam, so I highly recommend you give it a go.

8. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle

Puzzle games are probably the genre that most get under my skin, often making me feel small and stupid. I’d like to think I’m neither, but sometimes my brain just breaks. For example, I only got so far in The Witness because it became too much to grok and hold all those different rule sets inside my head as I moved from one area to the next. However, I can’t stay away from them. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle, the third free-to-play game on my top 10 list so far, didn’t frustrate me too much, most likely because it contains an in-game walkthrough for any puzzle you get stuck on. You play as Jason Voorhees as he goes on his teenager-killing rampage, but you can only move him in so many directions based on the layout of the map. It’s both cartoonish and ultra-gorey, and you are always leveling up, getting new costumes and weapons to use against these dumb-as-bricks kids. For a game all about murder, it’s a lot of fun.

7. Legendary Gary

I was lucky enough to snag a copy of Legendary Gary straight from the developer. I’d been interested in the game from the very start of the year, loving the artwork and unique take on turn-based combat. It didn’t hit every note for me, in the end, but I greatly enjoyed Gary’s fantasy and real-life equivalent adventures, and the soundtrack is simply hypnotic. The fighting is the main meat of the game, but I felt there wasn’t enough of it to really get a grip on how it worked. That said, there was also no grinding needed to reach the end, which I will always appreciate. It’s a rather short, special RPG, with some heavy decisions to make, and I’d love to see a sequel explore more of the fighting and in-game fantasy world.

6. Subnautica

Look, I’ve put a decent amount of hours into Subnautica and still really haven’t left the first main area of the game. It feels a lot like my first go at Dragon Age: Inquisition, wherein it was just hard to leave the starting area of the game because there was so much to see and do. Plus, I’m a teeny tiny bit scared of what else is out there; oceans are deeply unexplored, and if Planet Earth has taught me anything it is that the strangest critters and fish live in the darkest depths. I like that there’s not a ton of hand-holding here, and you have to scavenge what you can to build better gear and upgrades, all of which do push you to explore further and further away from the safety of your crashed pod. I’m considering getting the game on console soon as I’d rather play it there then on my laptop PC which can only just barely run this watery beast.

5. State of decay 2

At some point, I’ll probably just start my camp over in State of Decay 2. I’ve learned more as I played about what should take priority and how to keep everyone happy, but found myself constantly struggling to juggle all the needs and wants and necessities. When I last played the campaign mode, my group of survivors was just barely teetering on the edge of sanity, and I felt like I had explored all the local areas to completion, but didn’t feel confident traveling too far away. That said, the online horde-based mode called Daybreak is a ton of fun, and it also will eventually help with the main campaign by bringing over guns and tech earned by playing multiplayer. It’s not a happy game, but it does a great job of making you understand what it ultimately might take to live through a zombie apocalypse with a bunch of strangers on your side. Maybe.

4. Starlink: Battle of Atlas

I bought the digital version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and that was a good decision. I just don’t have room for more tiny toys, even if they finally do something other than take up space, nor do I think it would be fun to constantly swap out weapons on the fly when I can just pause the game and do it much quicker with a few button clicks. Either way, I still haven’t finished the main campaign as I’m enjoying completing a planet’s long checklist of things to do before moving on to the next world. The flying around and shooting at robots feels great, and there’s plenty to upgrade, from your ship to weapons to mods to your pilot’s super ability. Progress is always being made, and the story and characters are a lot of fun. I’m excited to see where everything is going, and there are a bunch more planets yet to explore to my heart’s content.

3. Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

I only recently got into the original Spyro the Dragon games after purchasing digital copies on my PlayStation 3 a couple years ago. It took me a bit to get through the first and second game, and by the time I was working on the third game…a full remake of all three titles was announced. So I stopped and waited patiently, and my patience was greatly rewarded. Sure, not all is perfect, like some difficulty in the boss fights, every single flying-only level, and the fact that we are missing subtitles in the year twenty-eighteen, but the game is still a joy to play. Collecting gems, eggs, orbs, and freeing dragons is still beyond satisfying, and seeing some hidden off to the side or up on a cliff and figuring out how to get there is pure joy. I’ve already re-beat the first two games, even getting 120% in the original Spyro the Dragon for the very first time, and I’m working hard to see the trilogy’s conclusion.

2. Mark of the Ninja: Remastered

I loved the original Mark of the Ninja, and I loved the remastered version I got for free for purchasing the original game years ago. It’s pretty much the same game, with some cleaned up art/cutscenes and a piece of DLC I never got to play, so for me, it was great going back into this world of stealth and stabbing and relearning all the tools and tricks to make it out alive. Melanie and I especially enjoyed going for all the seals that required a lot of points, figuring out how to milk the most out of a kill by hiding the bodies or throwing them into a group of unsuspecting guards. It became a game within a game, and I popped all the Achievements except for the one that wants you to play it all over again via New Game+. Maybe one day down the road I’ll take that challenge on, but for now…I’m good. I’m a good, little ninja-man.

1. Fortnite Battle Royale

Shortly before being admitted to the hospital in July and discovering I had cancer, I bought the Battle Pass for Fortnite Battle Royale. I figured, at that point, I had played enough of its truly free mode to warrant such a decision. Also, you can totally earn enough V-bucks playing the game to purchase the next season’s Battle Pass, so long as you don’t blow it all on costumes, dances, or strange emotes.

The weekly challenges, along with the daily missions, really made playing the game more fun, as I was terrible–and probably still am–at building and shooting. However, I can totally open seven ammo crates in a single match or dance in specific locations like it is nobody’s business, and even my fiance Melanie got into the action. By action, I mean doing a lot of the non-combat missions, but it became something we contiguously worked on together, and was a joy to come home from chemotherapy with new tasks to polish off, all while earning new outfits and such.

One thing that I have grown to appreciate in Fortnite Battle Royale over PUBG is how often it takes risks, tries out new modes or weapons, and generally isn’t afraid to mix things up. It keeps the game feeling fresh. I don’t love every mode, but it is comforting to know that nothing lasts forever. Still, please, Epic, bring back the 50 versus 50 mode. I need it like woah.

LISA sadistically plays with your emotions and expectations

I’ve only seen Mad Max: Fury Road in terms of the dystopian action series, but it’s possibly one of my favorite post-apocalyptic worlds, even if it is ultimately the most deranged and harshest on its people. LISA reminds me a lot of that movie, though there is much more humor to its telling and characters, and some of that humor works well with the ultra high amount of violence and disturbing imagery…and sometimes it doesn’t gel at all. That’s okay though. In this wasteland, where pain is living, nothing can be perfect.

Right, on with it. LISA is a quirky-as-quriky-gets side-scrolling RPG in the same vein as EarthBound–which I still need to get to ugh–set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Beneath this charming and funny exterior is a world full of disgust, moral destruction, and a general theme of “that’s messed up”; in fact, the game’s full name is LISA: The Painful RPG, which is a little on the nose. Players will learn what kind of person they are by being forced to make some serious choices, which do ultimately permanently affect how the game goes. For instance, if you want to save a party member from death, you will have to sacrifice the strength of your own character, the protagonist called Brad. This might entail taking a beating for them or even chopping off a limb or two. It’s pretty rough out there in this world of no women or children and only power-thirsty men. The story follows Brad as he stumbles upon an abandoned infant, a baby girl, who is later kidnapped.

Naturally, you’ve got all the standard RPG basics to manage, such as weapons, skills, limited energy for special attacks, and numerous stats that can be improved with items, leveling up, or purchasing new equipment. The combat in LISA is turn-based, though Brad’s general attack can be changed with manual inputs to do extra damage per hit, so long as you know the right string of keys to hit to perform the combo. Over the course of the game, Brad will come in contact with a diverse cast–and I do mean diverse–of potential party members that he can recruit by doing a range of odd and random tasks, and each brings their own special personality to combat. Currently, my party consists of Terry Hintz, who is not all that useful honestly, and someone else whose name I can’t remember, but I got them to join after listening to a lot of his sad stories. It looks like there are many characters that can join your party, just like in Chrono Cross.

Items in LISA range from mundane necessities to oddities like horse jerky, sweatbands with fire damage, greasy ponchos, and kung-fu scrolls. No phoenix downs so far. Stats are tied to a character’s level and equipment found or purchased from vendors in one of the game’s many towns. Settlements and towns sometimes offer respite from the outside world with places to sleep, which recovers the entire party’s health and skill points, but also includes randomized, potentially damaging events, such as getting robbed or having a party member kidnapped. You can also save your progress in specific spots.

Generally speaking, whenever games allow me to make moral choices, such as Mass Effect or Fallout: New Vegas, I always play the good guy. Sure, being a rude dude or scoundrel can be fun when it is make believe, but there’s a serious part of me that feels sorry for causing others pain or just being a complete dick for no reason other than to get a reaction. Yes, I care about polygon or sprite-based figures that are essentially just bits of code, and I care even more about how I interact with them. LISA makes being a good guy tough, constantly driving home the notion that being selfish and heartless is the only way to survive in a world like this.

Unfortunately, I think I might be stuck, unsure of where to go next. The problem is that it isn’t often clear where next should be, but also tied to the fact that there are hidden doorways and passages everywhere, and they are exceptionally well hidden. There’s some light platforming to do in LISA, with you being able to hop up small ledges, but falling from a great height will actually damage Brad and his companions’ health. Naturally, sometimes you have to do this to progress, but I can’t seem to figure out where to go. Of course, I could always look up a walkthrough, but I feel like I’m still too early in the game to be seeking outside help. Truly, this is the greatest suffering that LISA can throw at me.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Sky Force Anniversary

Sky Force Anniversary is described as a legendary shoot-em-up, but I unfortunately never really heard of it until I sat down the other day to give it a go on the ol’ PlayStation 3. Over my many years of playing all these dang vidyagamez, shoot-em-ups are a genre I just don’t find myself drawn to…though I do remember playing a lot of Thunder Spirits and U.N. Squadron on the SNES back in the day. Maybe a bit of RayStorm too. Still, if I am to play one of these, I prefer them to not be bullet hell style, as that is just masochism at its finest.

After some minimal research, I discovered that Sky Force is a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up series created by the Polish developer Infinite Dreams. The gameplay is reminiscent of Capcom’s 19XX series and Seibu Kaihatsu’s Raiden series, of which I don’t think I’ve played either, featuring a weapon upgrade system and large end-of-stage bosses. The first title in the series was originally released for Symbian and Pocket PC in 2004 and was ported to Palm webOS (2005), iOS (2009), and Android (2010). Also, the first game in the series was 2D and entirely sprite-based.

You start off Sky Force Anniversary with a fairly powerful ship, shooting down waves of incoming enemies with ease. Alas, as expected, things happen, and your ship loses all its great abilities. It is up to the player to build their battle-ship back to its glorious former self over the proceeding handful of levels. Warning: it’s going to take time, and by time..I mean grinding. The first few levels are not technically difficult, but enemies will take more hits to destroy and you’ll find your ship exploding sooner than expected. Defeating enemies drops collectible stars, which used to upgrade your ship in the hanger between levels, with each upgrade requiring more and more stars, naturally. Despite only unlocking up to the third mission, I found myself replaying missions one and two just to earn more stars and boost my ship a bit. It’s not exactly a barrel of fun, but it gets the job done…slowly.

All in all, Sky Force Anniversary feels slightly more scaled back in terms of overwhelming action, focusing instead more on patterns and the movement of enemies. You won’t experience a thousand and one bullets flying at your ship, but rather a small handful, with other things to track as well, such as stars to collect, people to rescue, boxes to shoot open, and so on. Each level has four bonus goals to complete, such as rescuing people or killing the majority of enemies, though it seems like, at least for the first three levels, these are all the same. Evidently, if you complete all four challenges, you can play an even harder version of the mission.

See ya, Sky Force Anniversary. You were a decent amount of fun for a few levels, but you just aren’t my thing. My favorite part, overall, was the little “ya-hoos” that people screamed when you rescued them off the ground.

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.