Tag Archives: Super Meat Boy

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.

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Sound Shapes begs you to relax against it

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Over the last several weeks, I’ve been chiseling away at Sound Shapes. Its campaign is not extremely long, consisting of 20 levels spread across a handful of themed worlds, dubbed “albums” here, that can be completed rather quickly if one just kept at it. That said, I was in no rush, and I didn’t actually want the levels to end, as I found myself shuffling over to the game in times of stress and panic, when I need a moment to calm my nerves or just forget about the drama of the world. Not every level helps in this fashion, but the majority of this rhythm-driven platformer forces the player to relax, to lose themselves in drum-beats and cartoonish side-scrolling goodness.

For those that know, I did the albums in order, level by level, every few days or so, finishing up with the one featuring music from Beck. Yup, that loser, baby. His first track level is amazing, and I found myself knocked back by how good it was, fusing platforming with both music and vocals, creating yet a still dangerous environment to roll and jump around in. The same can be said of the previous albums too, though they all feel different, and not just because of the visual style or drum beats, but some levels are more about timing-specific jumping while others have you avoiding rockets or enemies. A handful of earlier levels are happy to let you stroll through with no obstacles, and they are just as enjoyable. Before I discovered Beck’s album levels, I was madly in love with the album designed by Capybara Games, featuring music from Jim Guthrie. Y’know, the folks behind the fantastically moody and unnerving Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.

Sound Shapes, from what I can tell, is twofold: basically, the straightforward campaign, and a level creator. Once you complete the game’s campaign, two other modes unlock, which play heavily into unlocking the majority of Trophies. That said, the “death mode” levels are extremely challenging, like late-game Super Meat Boy-esque, seeing as it took me upwards of thirty tries to beat the first take on this theme. I don’t know how many others I’ll go after, but I will try out “beat school” at some point, though I kind of feel like I got my fill of Sound Shapes. It sated, if you will.

Sound Shapes‘ gameplay is fairly straightforward. After all, this is a side-scrolling platformer, a genre that will never not be strong, where you can move your little eyeball critter and stick it to surfaces to climb or descend through the level. Each stage is packed with collectible circles that add musical components to the background soundtrack, such as an additional guitar lick or hi-hat tap. As you collect more, the level’s soundtrack evolves. Your goal is to get to the end and jump through the magical boombox. It’s pretty linear, but that doesn’t mean it is less magical as you watch a level’s geography twist and turn with the tunes, funneling you one way through its audio-video journey.

Unlike Super Mario Maker, which I have and have been tooling around with over the last week and will eventually do a post on, I have no interest in making levels for Sound Shapes. Zip, nada, none. Or playing others’ levels, if that is something you can do. I’m not sure, as I didn’t even dip into the level creator menu to find out. I’m not really sure why, but some games simply don’t entice me in the same way that Super Mario Maker has, or, if they do, they are a bit too complicated to figure out, like LittleBigPlanet 2 or any of the LEGO games. I’m sure there’s a ton of cool stuff being made–or was made–for Sound Shapes, as one can already tell from its mishmash of a campaign in terms of style and substance, but those twenty-some levels were all I needed. Truly, if I want more, I’ll just replay them.

Look, if you like music and games, you should play Sound Shapes. If you love music and games, boy oh boy, you should play Sound Shapes. If you’re a big fan of simplistic, forgiving platformer, at least until you clear the campaign, you should play Sound Shapes. That’s as best as I can sell it. I’m off now to listen to those three Beck tracks on loop, just because.

Tower of Heaven is a tough, rule-stacking platformer

tower of heaven final overall imp

Much like with Persist, I am finding myself drawn to platformers that really mix the genre up so that it is no longer simply about jumping left to right, down to up. Those simplistic actions are totally fine, given that that’s where this genre really began with Super Mario Bros. and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, but eventually the premise wears thin, and there needs to be something else tossed into the machine to create a different style of play.

Again, in Persist, you lost abilities, like being unable to swim in water or even jump, which made traditional platforming problematic and demanded you figure out a way around regardless. In Fez, which is probably more puzzler than platformer, you could rotate the level to traverse to new areas, find hidden secrets, and see everything in a new light. Braid had you playing with time. Sonic the Hedgehog, which I’ve never been good at, placed more of an emphasis on speed than straightforward platforming, and 3D titles like Jumping Flash! took advantage of a rather unique and challenging perspective for platforming purposes, with the camera locked in first person mode, which made leaping to extreme heights both exhilarating and disorienting. And awesomely, I could list other examples, but I think that’s decent for now.

Well, in Askiisoft’s Tower of Heaven, our game of the moment, there’s a rule book you acquire early on, and if you don’t follow the rules, you die–plain as paper. Designed to look like a Game Boy romp of old, this challenging platformer looks more innocent than it really is. By the time you pick up the second or third rule, it’s just as difficult as the masochistic platformers of this past generation–I guess I can say that now since we’re moving on to the next one with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One finally exiting their respective dungeons–namely, Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be the Guy. It’s difficult and leaves nearly no room for error, especially once you can’t go left, touch the side of blocks, and even touch other living beings. But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself.

The plot. Yup, there’s a plot. You are a lost soul, represented as a dark shadow of a human figure, and you are attempting to climb a…tower. Where does it go? Well, the game’s title should clue you in, but I couldn’t tell if that was meant to be taken literally or figuratively. A mysterious voice from above does not believe you can do it and begins to throw wrenches into your plans when it becomes clear you are unwilling to walk away from your heavenly goal. There’s some religious text at the very end that kind of confused me and felt like it was there to be “deep” and “thoughtful”, but really added little to the story. In each level, your goal is to reach the staircases and continue up. However, as you progress, the voice from above will place specific restrictions on you (such as you can no longer hit the left key or touch the side of walls), and these rules eventually stack on top of each other, meaning you have to constantly be aware of all the things you can’t do, as well as what you can. At one point, you weren’t even allowed to check the rules menu; if you hit the button to bring up the list, you exploded into pixels. It’s a fantastic gameplay idea, though it makes for tough towering.

All that said, here’s about nine minutes of me going through the motions for Tower of Heaven‘s first few levels. Warning: my mic audio is very high and airy, and I’m still tinkering with my settings to learn what works and what doesn’t for recording purposes. Again, if anyone has any tips, I’ll take ’em. Just throw them at my head; I’m using OBS now to record gameplay footage and a LogiTech headset.

I played more after the video ends and was able to beat Tower of Heaven after about twenty or twenty-five minutes on the final few levels. I came very close to giving up entirely though, that’s how challenging it got. When the rule states that you can no longer touch living beings like butterflies and grass, well…you begin to notice that stuff is all over the place. Anyways, the ending was simply okay, if a bit muddled in its own revelations and heavy religious tone, but I dug it nonetheless. Just like in VVVVVV, you get a stats screen at the end, and mine showed that I died a total of 154 times, which I am totally not ashamed of. If you’re into retro games with some challenge, this one is definitely worth checking out.

Flipping and flopping in VVVVVV

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I had to double-check, but I don’t think I’ve written about playing VVVVVV on the Nintendo 3DS yet. Sure, I excitedly put down some words when it was announced that it was coming to the little-handheld-that-could, but that doesn’t really do the thing justice, as that was more about me moving from playing a control-heavy puzzle platformer on my lackluster Mac’s mouse and keyboard to on something a bit more viable, like the Nintendo 3DS. Yes, I like jumping by pushing a button, not clicking a mouse; don’t sue me. Though, in VVVVVV‘s case, it’s more like flipping than jumping.

I’ll do y’all a solid and re-summarize the short, but sturdy story: Captain Viridian has to both save a dimension on the brink of collapse and find his spaceship’s missing crew members–all of whose names begin with the letter V. There’s six of ’em. See the connection to the game’s title yet? No? Well, just keep trying, and remember that it’s always good to have goals. Anyways, you save friends and the dimension by having Captain Viridian traverse around a somewhat Metroidvania-like map, flipping to the ceiling and across moving platforms and avoiding deadly spikes and getting lost. A retro-inspired chiptune soundtrack fuels the wind beneath Viridian’s feet as you explore space and the weird rooms and buildings filling in the gaps.

I’ve definitely gotten farther playing VVVVVV on the 3DS than the computer, and that’s to say that I’ve rescued a total of four out of the six lost crew members, as well as found three trinkets (out of twenty), which I’m not actively hunting down. Flipping gravity on its head is a simple button press, but there have been a few tough spots that have taken time and practice to nail perfectly, especially when the levels move and you can’t see what is ahead of you before you jump; thankfully, just like in Super Meat Boy, death is quick, and the music never stops, so you always feel like you’re progressing, even if you’re technically not. It definitely helps to keep you in the game, as a long death and reload animation would have been both cumbersome and off-putting. Instead, you just get up and try again.

However, I’ve reached my “stuck” point, and that is the levels called “Do As I Say” and “Not As I Do”, which involve Captain Viridian leading a found crew member to, hopefully, a teleporter that will bring them back to the ship’s control room. Unfortunately, any time Captain Viridian is standing on the ground, the crew member will walk over to him, and you have to lead them across moving platforms and over spikes–and it is no easy thang. I watched someone on YouTube do it in about 45 seconds, but I spent about ten minutes alone going at it, only to frustratingly give up and turn the 3DS off before I threw it in a blender and went to Smoothie Town.

As with my recent roadblock in Mutant Mudds, I’ll just put the game aside for a bit and come back to it later with a clean aura. Only two more crew members to save, and one is currently following me around. That has to mean I’m close to the end, right? Well, time will tell, unless I can’t get past this part, in which case I’ll just have to track down that person on YouTube, invite them over for dinner,  beg them to do it for me, and the shove them in a special barrel and dissolve them into goo so no one will ever know….oh, sorry about that last part. Been catching up on Breaking Bad, you see. I would never do that. But the problem is that I can’t go back and explore more of the map until this part is complete, so it really is this or never seeing any more of VVVVVV, which would be a bummer.

Simple polygon shapes become more in Thomas Was Alone

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A small spoiler right up front, but Thomas is actually not alone for very long in Thomas Was Alone. Sorry, I know. You probably didn’t see that coming, and now your world is crumbling down. Wait, here’s a few more juicy tidbits:  his full name is Thomas-AT-23-6-12, he is a red rectangle, and he is searching for companionship. Just dropping knowledge bombs over here like boom, boom, boom.

As a puzzle platformer, Thomas Was Alone is pretty standard stuff. Maybe even a bit basic in the early levels. Despite being a simple geometric shape, you can jump to climb up and across platforms, with the end goal always trying to reach a shape-specific door somewhere near the end of the level. As you progress, Thomas meets some other shapely friends, like Chris, an cynical orange square, and John, a tall yellow stick-shape. I’ve met a couple more shapes too, but I won’t spoil them all, especially if there are more to come. Basically, the different shapes can jump at varying levels of height, and you have to use Thomas and his friends cooperatively to get over some platforms and hit those doors up. That seems to be the meat the puzzles, unfortunately, and the early levels are beyond easy, finishable in mere seconds.

What takes Thomas Was Alone above its lackluster gameplay mechanics is Danny Wallace, the game’s narrator. He also helped the game earn a BAFTA Games Award. He tells the story of each shape created by a company called Artificial Life Solutions, which experiments on artificial intelligences, and really gives them life, despite them being, without a doubt, geometric shapes with the ability to jump. It also helps that his British accent is calm and commanding, reminding me of the narrator in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It really does help make the somewhat mindless, at times, platforming all the more enjoyable.

All that said, I’ve run into a hardware problem, one that is growing more frustrating every day. I prefer to play platformers with a controller; hush now, it’s how I grew up with them, bouncing Bubsy, Mario, and Sonic to and fro with the push of a button rather than the click of the mouse. I also find using a d-pad or analog stick provides better precision when timing jumps and landings. Your mileage may vary. However, when I plug in my Xbox 360 controller into my laptop to play some Thomas Was Alone, the controller only seems to work 20% of the time. I’ve found restarting the game with the controller still plugged in to work every now and then. But not consistently. And I refuse to play any other way. I do not believe my controller is on the fritz, as it works fine on the Xbox 360, and I was able to load up Super Meat Boy through Steam and start jumping from wall to wall with no problems. Not sure what the deal is, and the game does support controllers, but it’s been touch and go.

I hope I can get this controller stuff figured out, as I’d like to see Thomas Was Alone to the end. Not to see if the puzzles change much, but I want to know what becomes of these shapes. These square and rectangles that have opinions and qualities and desires. That probably sounds crazy, I know, but that’s just how good of a job Wallace does narrating them. Oh, and I do wish the game had Steam trading cards.

It’s hard to stay alive in a horror-ridden basement

binding of isaac thoughts

I love trading cards, and I mostly blame Magic: The Gathering for it, but this affection traces back further than that to when I was a wee lad, collecting Fleer baseball and Marvel cards with a vigor I’ve never since seen again. I still have much of my collection stashed away in boxes and binders, but have mostly fallen away from collecting cards due to the cost these days and the fact that, part of the fun, is trading X and Y for Z with other collectors. Alas, I can count the number of real-life friends I have on one blender-mangled hand, and none of them are down with this type of lifestyle.

That all said, Steam now has trading cards, and while I still don’t fully understand how the system works, I find it fascinating nonetheless. Also, with these being digital trading cards, I no longer have to worry about accidentally bending or nipping them, as well as how to store them safely amongst everything else crowding up my studio space. Basically, you play a specific game, and a new trading card is added to your inventory roughly every 30 minutes. However, you can only earn so many, say 5 out of 9 cards, and thus have to either trade with other players or sell/buy cards online. Once you complete a set, you can craft a badge which gets you some background art, new emoticons, discounts on other Steam games, and XP to level up. It’s an odd meta game that I have a hard time ignoring. Thankfully, I haven’t gone full tilt yet, selling only one duplicate for $0.27 and sitting on it while I figure out my plan of attack.

I was able to give Grinding Down long-standing compadre Greg Noe some of my extra cards from The Binding of Isaac, allowing him to craft his first badge. It was both exciting and not. Like when you’re seven, and you are watching your best friend opening his birthday gifts. I believe he has some Stacking cards for me, too, but last time we attempted to trade the system kept glitching out. Another time, me hopes. I’m also pretty close on completing all the cards for Super Meat Boy.

Anyways, even though I got all the cards that I possibly could to drop from The Binding of Isaac, I’ve been playing a lot of it lately. Like, first to relax and just mindlessly see how far I can go, and then immediately after try my hardest to actively reach the end. Unfortunately, I’ve still not gotten past the Depths, but I feel like I’m getting better with every run. However, getting far actually requires a ton of luck, in that certain items will be more beneficial than others. Noe mentioned that a friend of his beat it on his first run, to which I replied, “Fuck him.” Trust me. When I beat The Binding of Isaac on my 157th run, now that will sound impressive.

Bosses that I just can’t seem to grok:

  • Widow
  • Pin
  • Chub

But it’s not actually the bosses that often slow me down or bring my flight of fancy to a grinding halt. Just your day-to-day room enemies are enough to give you grief if you don’t know how to handle them or can’t hit the keys fast enough, and I particularly hate entering a room to find it filled with charger maggots, hoppers, knights, keepers, and globins. On the other hand, I’m a pro at dealing with flies and piles of poo.

Hopefully, luck will be with me one day soon, giving me the best items from the get-go and opening a clear path to Mom. If I can just beat The Binding of Isaac once, I will feel a great wealth of accomplishment, because it really isn’t a simple task. I do have to wonder if I’d be any better at the game using a controller, but I don’t think, unlike Hotline Miami, another tough title requiring quick reflexes, that it offers gamepad support.

Traversing worlds in Braid like a true tourist

I played a little bit of Braid back at the end of August 2011, during the time that Hurricane Irene came swooping on in and knocked out power at Grimmauld Place for a week and then some. Stuck at the in-laws, I only had my Nintendo 3DS and laptop to entertain me videogames-wise–Tara’s dogs and old VHS tapes provided non-gaming fun–and there was only so much of The Sims Social I could take. So I loaded up Steam for like the third or fourth time ever and gave Braid a spin, using just a keyboard to govern Tim and time. It was not easy, but thankfully, the game itself is not punishing, and actually needs you to rewind your mistakes to learn how to progress forward. I got to the end of World 4 before stopping, but let me preface that with the fact that you actually begin Braid on World 2. So, uh, yeah.

And for the most part, I just walked from the beginning of the level to the end. Occasionally, I’d tried to get some of those shiny puzzle pieces, but if they proved too complicated, I just moved on. And the game is fine with that. You can literally go from beginning to end on some levels in under a minute. Just keep going right; Mario would be proud. As Jonathan Blow says, it’s “about the journey, not the destination.” Well, my journey was often that of a tourist, going forward and taking in all the gorgeous sights while trying not to disturb history. If I could, I hopped over enemies instead of on them. I do not regret breezing past some puzzles, as they will still be there when Tim decides to return.

Some of Braid‘s story elements had already been spoiled for me at that point by the Internet, so that was the least compelling part. The puzzles though, they remained unspoiled…and good for me. They are works of art. Clearly planned and executed in a way that mattered to the game’s  mechanics and mood. Even the simplest of them still give off a good feeling aura when completed.

Flash-forward to now, 2012, the year of our unmaking, and I’ve been using Steam a lot more thanks to a capable laptop. Y’all remember that I recently bought a second copy of Skyrim, right? Well, I’ve been playing it with my Xbox 360 controller plugged into the USB slot, and it’s been fantastic. I thought to give some other games in my Steam library a chance, too, to see if they were more enjoyable with a controller versus a mouse and keyboard. And they were–Trine and Super Meat Boy. Braid, too. It just felt more natural to jump about and rewind time using a controller. I dunno. PC gamers can hate all they want, but platformers and controllers go hand in hand.

And for giggles, here’s some Steam Achievements I unlocked, which are totally different entities than Xbox 360 Achievements:


Traversed World 5: Travel all the way across World 5.


Traversed World 6: Travel all the way across World 6.


Solved World 2: Fit together all the World 2 puzzle pieces and align the puzzle in its frame.

Okay. Will hop back in soon to hopefully finish Tim’s heroic journey up, though I suspect I’ll need to look up some walkthroughs to get all the puzzle pieces in Worlds 2-6 as many look quite tricky and daunting; however, I’m quite proud of myself for getting them all on my own in World 2, as well as defeating a certain boss using the clone recording mechanic. Guess I retained some skills from playing The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom long before Braid.