Tag Archives: VVVVVV

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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Regrettably, I lost the game in You Have to Win the Game

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A few days before my Extra Life stream was to start, I scanned through the “free-to-play” tag on Steam to see if there was anything worth downloading and trying live on the day of the event. Turns out, no…not much. A bunch of off-putting MMORPGs, a couple of MOBAs, and some frightening swamp monster called Fistful of Frags, but there was one title that certainly stood out from the pack, both on its name and looks.

Enter You Have to Win the Game, a deceptively tough platformer with a retro 1980s PC aesthetic from J. Kyle Pittman, who I believe either works or worked at Gearbox Studios. Can’t quite confirm that at the moment. It now seems like he and his brother founded Minor Key Games last year to create its sequel Super Win the Game, so kudos to them. I will definitely be checking that out once I go back through YHTWTG one more time.

There’s no solid story here, but that’s fine–think back to the good ol’ days of when action platformers needed no story. I mean, yeah…maybe there was one in DuckTales or Mystery Quest, but I can’t recall a single detail; all I know is there was jumping and exploring and jump-exploring to do. Granted, those games had enemies to deal with and ways to dish out damage, but YHTWTG is much more isolated, with you controlling a little sprite person as you explore a map and gain abilities, such as wall climbing and double jumping, that will eventually help you explore even more. Actually, wait. There are enemies, but your only course of action is to avoid them, not get in their face(s). There’s a continuing thread throughout the game’s progression about learning a magic word, but more on that in a moment.

Just like in VVVVVV, each screen feels like its own contained space, especially given that each screen gets its own quirky name at the bottom, like KISS Principle or Hardcore Prawn. This helps drive the desire to see what is up next. Some of these screens are simply there for you to walk through, some contain a save checkpoint or bag of money (which you collect to raise your 100% completion percentage), but many of them center around a deadly pitfall or crazy set of jumps or orb-tossing untouchable boss encounter. This is where this cutesy, retro platformer becomes something else–a challenge. But very rewarding, especially when it comes to rooms requiring precision-based timing to make it through in one piece.

Visually, the game is what you see above, using four-color CGA graphics and a lot of black space, but curved around a fake monitor screen, with monotonic PC speaker sounds to boot. That faux screen curve is a really cool effect that, after a minute or two of playing, you don’t even realize is there. At least I didn’t. Not much changes in terms of graphics overall as you progress, but it is fun entering a new area and seeing the layout change or where new traps are added or spotting a new way to go. The orb-tossing boss enemies–there are a few in total–are much larger sprites, detailed just enough to be threatening. If you can, search for the secret cat room.

At the end of YHTVTG, you are given the chance to enter in a password, which is whatever the magic word ultimately is. Unfortunately, I had only loosely paid attention to the scribbling on the walls, so I was unable to make a good guess and thus “lost” the game. I plan to go back and try again, as well as get the rest of those money bags, though there are a few sections I’m not looking forward to repeating, like that one where you have to jump down to a portal, cling to a wall, and then double-jump over a line of spikes. Yeah, I spent a good while on that part during Extra Life. Granted, I should be able to speedrun the first few parts now that I’m on the up-and-up, and I think there’s even an Achievement for completing the game (any %) in under ten minutes. Good luck there.

And good luck to anyone inspired by this post to win the game. I mean, you have to. You Have to Win the Game.

Escorting Emma Emmerich is not very enjoyable

escorting emma emmerich

I remembered next to nothing about Emma Emmerich and her little side story involvement in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I wrote next to nothing because, for some reason, I did recall her cute, chatty parrot. Just not her. I suspect this has more to do with how she throws a wrench into the game’s stealth-heavy gameplay rather than her somber life story and damaged relationship with big bro Hal. Plus, she’s completely dismissible, which is a shame since the game forces you to protect, only to watch, via a cutscene, as she succumbs to her untouchable fate.

See, after taking down the Twilight-loving Vamp yet again, you rescue her from a part of Big Shell that is beginning to flood due to explosions. That’s not really a problem for Raiden, who can swim as good as any otter these days. However, Emma is terrified of water after a traumatic experience as a kid, and she’s also been injected with something that makes her legs extremely weak, meaning Raiden has to carry her on his back while underwater, as well as pull her along when on dry ground. Yup, you are now an officially unpaid babysitter, and you need to get Emma over to the computer room at the bottom of Shell 1’s core; it’s not a far walk, but it’s a troublesome one nonetheless.

The underwater parts were not as tricky as I initially feared. You just had to memorize the path and make sure you went up for air more frequently than before because Emma’s got teeny tiny lungs. I ran into frustration in the sections of Big Shell where enemies were on patrol. First, I tried to sneak her past everyone, but kept getting spotted; the moment the enemy is on us, Emma just sits down and gives up, letting the bullets mix with tears of defeat. That meant I had to get down and dirty and simply murder everyone and everything (sky-high cyphers) just so we could creep leisurely from one strut to another. Ideally, it’s not how I wanted to do things, but sometimes you got to snap necks to ensure the weak-kneed make it out alive.

Oh, and there’s one part where a bunch of bugs are covering the floor and walls near an elevator. Emma refuses to go any further until the bugs are gone. You have two options: clear away the bugs with the coolant spray or knock her out and drag her body along. I did the former, but when doing some light research for this post, I found many “gamers” touting proudly and triumphantly that they knocked her lights out. For shame.

All of that naturally got me thinking about other escort missions, and how I really do loathe being put into the somewhat awkward position of the sole protector of someone who is more fragile than an ancient vase teetering on the edge of a wobbly desk. Here are a few standout examples of escorting gone wrong from other games I’ve played:

In BioShock, towards the end of the story, you have to escort a Little Sister somewhere. Not a problem, you think, given that these ADAM-wielding tiny girls are invincible at every other point in the game where you’ve encountered them. Except no–this Little Sister is special and can take damage from enemies. Strangely, she pays little attention to the chaos of bullets, lightning bolts, and Splicers around her, content in just walking around and stabbing corpses with her needle.

Musashi: Samurai Legend made you feel the weight of the escort mission. No, really. Every time you saved a Mystic–a kidnapped maiden who would, upon saving, help strengthen Musashi’s legendary sword–you had to literally carry her to the level’s exit. And still fight off bad guys. Sometimes you could use her as a weapon to push goons back, but it was often easier to dump her on the ground, clear the area, and then pick her back up again. Rinse and repeat a few more times. Yeah, way too unnecessary.

Now, I’ve only played Dead Rising 2: Case Zero and Dead Rising 2 across the whole franchise, but both of those games have survivors to rescue and bring back safely to your headquarters. Some of them are on a time limit, which is not a big deal, given that everything in these games is timed. However, these trapped bags of fresh flesh feature some of the worst artificial intelligence I’ve come across, and if you don’t babysit every single step they take they’ll most likely run themselves right into the middle of a horde and get themselves eaten to death. Similar to Mushashi: Samurai Legend, you can pick them up and carry them, but that leaves you with few options for clearing a walkable path. I think I ended up rescuing only 12 in Dead Rising 2 in the end. Not surprisingly, these problems also pop up in Dead Island.

G-Police is a game I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to write about yet on Grinding Down, but it is overdue for a GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH feature soon enough. Let’s just say that piloting a slow-moving aircraft while protecting a slow-moving car on the ground as it obliviously drives to its destination while people shoot guns at it is not my favorite part of Psygnosis’ Blade Runner-inspired shooter.

Fable III, besides being a bad game, had a bunch of fetch quests in the form of escort missions. Basically, you’d be wooing someone, and they’d then want you to take them to a particular part of the world. Thankfully, once accepting to do this, you can fast travel to wherever is closest to this spot, and the person will also travel with you. However, you must now actually take their hand into yours and lead them down the path; when enemies show up, you must ensure that they don’t get hurt. It’s not terribly difficult, but it is terribly cumbersome, and the hand holding aspect is so glitchy that you’ll often break contact just going over a small bump.

Lastly, there’s a tiny section in VVVVVV wherein you have to escort a fellow comrade back to the teleporter. He’ll follow you when you walk on the ground, but comes to a halt when you flip up to the ceiling. This forces you to figure out how to move him along the path, without killing either of you. It’s a brief, but difficult–and extremely memorable–moment in a game all about moving swiftly from one platform to another.

Well, this post got long fast.

Do you like escort missions, and, if so, are you clinically insane? Tell me about your least favorite escorting scenario in the comments section below.

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.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #33 – VVVVVV

2013 games completed vvvvvv

You flip up, flip down
Find crew members in tough spots
Die oodles of times

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

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.

VVVVVV coming to the Nintendo 3DS via my favorite eShop

I already own VVVVVV, and it runs fantastically on my much-complained-about Macbook. I’ve played it a few times, and I won’t tell y’all how many times I killed our 8-it captain. A lot. A lot a lot. That’s not a slight either, as dying is important to learning. The little flippy platformer was part of Humble Indie Bundle 3, and it’s an adorably hard game, where flipping from floor to ceiling gets increasingly challenging, demanding that your timing be perfect. You play as Captain Viridian, who must not only save a dimension on the brink of collapse, but also find your ship’s missing crew members–all of whose names begin with the letter V. The game has some great chiptunes to move to and really pushes retro aesthetics and gameplay down your throat. Plus, tons of secrets and a Metroid-style map. Creator Terry Cavanagh stuffed a lot of awesome in it.

And now, thanks to developer/publisher Nicalis, Inc., fans can get their masochistic VVVVVV fix on the Nintendo 3DS. Guess the success of their bringing Cave Story to the system helped. This marks the first time a game Cavanagh’s created is making it on a console. Kudos to all.

So, what’s included in the 3DS version? Here’s a bulleted list using someone else’s words:

  • Open-world environment with six unique levels
  • Twenty trinkets to locate and collect
  • Full 3D awesomeness integrated into the retro-looking art style
  • Dual screen functionality with a real-time map!
  • Music by Magnus Pålsson
  • New featured levels
  • Future content updates

Given that I already own the game, I’d really like not to pay too much for VVVVVV on the 3DS. Maybe $4.99 or so. Please don’t price it as high as Cave Story. Please, please. If it’s more than $10.00, I will invert myself into a ceiling of spikes. THAT IS A PROMISE, ESHOP. It’s just that I don’t like playing a lot of games on my Macbook; the keyboard and trackpad are on the verge of failing, and I can’t have anything else open if I want stuff to run smoothly. Can’t wait to move on from Macaroni. VVVVVV, with its minimap and simple look and controls, seems rather fitting on a handheld device, and I suspect I’d give it much more time there than cramped over my work desk.

Anyways, VVVVVV for the 3DS is slated to come out before 2011 ends, which is awesome considering there’s only like three months left. Adding it to the DO WANT list. So much to play!