Tag Archives: XBLA

2016 Game Review Haiku, #2 – Motocross Madness

2016 gd games completed motocross madness

Vroom, vroom all around
Egypt, Australia, Iceland
For coins, fire skulls

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

The only way to Quarrel is with an anagram solver

final quarrel thoughts cheating gd

Words are wonderful; trust me, I copyedit for a living. Not surprisingly, I enjoy a great number of word-based games, such as Scrabble, Scattegories, Apples to Apples, Zip-It, Balderdash, and so on. Basically, if it lets me flex my word-creation or word-pairing muscles, I’m in. However, I’ve never been great at seeing anagrams, especially under a tight time limit, which is why I quickly dropped away from Quarrel a week or two after I got it back in January 2012. You might have noticed that I “completed” it a few weeks back, giving it its very own haiku.

By “completed,” I am talking about the critical path to defeating everyone in the Showdown mode, as well as dominating the known Quarrel world through the domination mode. Both these modes are various scenarios where you battle against one, two, or sometimes three AI-controlled opponents, all fighting for colored territory. There is online play and a number of challenges and Achievements to go for, but I think I’m mostly done going after those. Also, by “completed” I totally mean cheated.

The process went like this. Since I always was picked to go last in both the Showdown and Domination modes, this meant waiting and watching. If an opponent attacked another opponent not named PaulyAulyWog, my girlfriend and I would quickly look at the eight letters given to us, pause the action, and then load up an anagram solver on her cell phone. After plopping down all the letters, she’d select an eight-letter word and tell me what to create. I’d do this as quickly as possible, though sometimes my fingers would slip or I’d hit the wrong letter by accident, forcing me to panic and swiftly amend my error. So long as I got the anagram submitted in time before the two other players put in their answers, I was awarded an extra back-up unit, which are beyond helpful. The process, more or less, went the same when I got attacked, but it was never a guarantee I’d win because I might not have enough letters or still was too slow when buttoning in.

Honestly, I don’t feel too terrible about using an anagram solver for Quarrel. I would for nearly every other word-based game, especially the ones I mentioned earlier. For many of the Showdown and Domination matches, the first fight against you is absolutely crucial for determining how well the remainder of the round will go. If you don’t win or at least take a prisoner early on, it’s basically over, and not a whole bag of fun to sit through everybody’s turns knowing you are a lost cause. Perhaps there are people out there that see a string of six to eight letters and immediately, within seconds, know what the strongest word to create is–I am not those people. Before giving in and relying on an anagram solver, I attempted to play these two modes, only getting as far as two or three rounds in, and those were farces, with me somehow staying alive long enough to watch everyone else kill each other and feast on their remains when the smoke cleared.

When you’re tasked with creating a three- or four-letter word against an opponent with the same objective, speed often trumps complexity. However, when you have the opportunity to make an eight-letter anagram, you make that eight-letter anagram. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what arsenite or ergatoid means; they are knockout words, and the faster you put them down, the stronger your army will grow. You might be quick enough to remember those eight mixed up letters and pause the game yourself to search for a word, but I recommend having a partner next to you. Eventually, my girlfriend would begin memorizing the first four letters, and then I’d pause, giving her the last four, and saving us a second or two of time. That might not seem like much, but Quarrel‘s AI opponents do not kid around. Unless we’re talking about Dwayne, that is.

So yeah, Quarrel. There’s a lot to like; on the flip side, there’s a lot to dislike, and perhaps it speaks to the quality of the game’s challenge that I had to look outside my noggin for extra help. Again, maybe there are super geniuses out there with fingers like that one bot from Ghost in the Shell that can figure out the anagram right away and submit it faster than light. I suspect many might not suffer the same difficulties as I did, but this is one puzzle game that was more frustrating than fun, even when you figured out the way to win.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #56 – Quarrel

2015 gd games completed quarrel xbla

A battle of words
Can’t see the anagrams, pause
Look up, rearrange

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Smart, smooth stealth action in Mark of the Ninja

As frustrating as they can get, I love stealth-based videogames. It probably all began, to no one’s surprise, with Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation 1 back in the late 1990s. As Solid Snake, a real grunt of a guy, you had to sneak through a nuclear weapons storage facility on Shadow Moses Island, which has been attacked and overtaken by a group of terrorists known as FOXHOUND. The terrorists have taken two hostages: DARPA Chief Donald Anderson and ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker. For me, gameplay was fundamentally different than anything else I had thus experienced on my PlayStation 1 and SNES before it. Your goal was to avoid detection, as much as possible. And when you did, after much crawling under things, pressing your body against walls, and creeping down the line under a cardboard box, you truly felt like king of the castle.

Other games did this as well. Tenchu, which holds the honor of being the first 3D stealth game, lets you run along rooftops and use a grappling hook to get around enemies. With the use of certain Plasmids, one could totally be a sneaky sneakster in BioShock–though not for all scenarios. And from what I’ve dabbled in with Lone Survivor, hiding from freaky monsters is vital to surviving and up to you to do. Some games though, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Hitman: Blood Money (for the Ps2), were more punishing and less fun.

Mark of the Ninja blows them all away–not with its story, mind you, but how it implements and improves upon the many elements that make up a stealth game. Namely, sound. Everything you do makes a sound, from running to landing on the ground, and the volume of that is measured in a blue ring that you can see right on the screen. If a guard is within the blue ring, he will hear you. Simple as that, but the clear and conciseness of it all works marvelously. Stealth kills are quickly successful if a short button prompt press is won. Cones of vision come right off a guard’s face, leaving behind the map as a constant picture-within-picture mandatory check. You can also easily tell when you are visible and not, depending on whether you, the ninja, is colored in or all in black. And lastly, movement. This ninja is fast and silent, and it shows when you move from one side of the screen to the other so fluidly and without detection.

There are 12 levels in Mark of the Ninja and…no, wait. I guess I should mention the reason why you are going through these levels. Again, the story was a letdown, especially since it did eventually build to a great mystery. Alas, a mystery left for you to unravel in your spare time. Anyways, you are a ninja of the Hisomu Clan, awaken by a mysterious female ninja after learning that the clan village was just attacked by an organization called Hessian Services. Your body is covered in crazy tattoos that are twofold: they give you power, and they also might make you crazy and commit suicide. As you learn more about the attack, friends become enemies, and you then begin a quest for truth. It’s all kinds of mediocre, but towards the middle the story does intensify, and the ending, which is a choice-based thing a la Bastion, did make me pause and actually think before picking. Unfortunately, unlike that previously mentioned game, your choice leads to nothing. Just credits. I was hoping for more confirmation in the end, whether the ninja was crazy or not, but I guess it’s not an answer easily said.

Regardless, the levels are a blast. Each is a puzzle itself, in that you can get through them all without being detected, without killing anyone, or doing a bit of both. There are nine upgrade points to be earned in each level: three are findable scrolls, three are score-based, and three are special challenges to do. I’m currently replaying many of them to find everything, and it is still immensely enjoyable. Two nitpicks are that laser puzzles are annoying, and that some areas are really dark, forcing you to up the gamma on your TV screen.

After beating the Mark of the Ninja, you unlock New Game+, but I don’t think it is something I’ll be able to do. Not now, maybe not ever. Firstly, the sound ring is removed, something which I rely on a lot. Enemies are tougher, too, and there’s a third change that I can’t remember, but it’s probably a doozy. Either way, for $15, this is a great game for fans of stealth, with plenty of things to do once the disappointing story is told. Also, some great and creative Achievements, like freaking out a guard to kill another guard or throwing three different items at once or making a stealth kill from inside a box. Really good stuff.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Mark of the Ninja

Sneak to learn the truth
Are you mad or a weapon
Choose your fate, ninja

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

To comprehend Fez is to comprehend one of life’s greatest mysteries

As you might’ve seen recently, I beat Fez. Just to clarify one thing–I did not beat Fez recently, only posted recently that I beat it. Clarity on that is important, as I’ve had plenty of time now to ponder and muse over the indie darling that demands scrutiny and dissecting tools to really get under its skin. Supposedly, that’s where things get interesting. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t really know.

Before I start, a note: since I’m not sure what is what in Fez‘s world of cubes and shapes and shapely cubes and how you interpret things, any of the below could be considered spoilerish. Read at your own risk.

So, I reached Fez‘s “kill screen” by using 25 cubes and 7 anti-cubes to open the final door. Thankfully, I was able to get enough regular cubes by finding my way into the sewers, which a high number of people seem to miss on their first run, and therein the connecting levels to them; otherwise, I would’ve really had to put my thinking cap on to obtain most of those anti-cubes in order to proceed. I had treasure maps and a sliver of an idea for a few of them–but my attempts ended all the same: spinning that room, checking that map, trying a few random button sequences, and moving along after too many uneventful minutes.

Anyways, here are the notes I took while playing Fez:

I think I got close on a few things, but, more or less, it all looks Greek to me. I did my best to avoid looking answers up online while I was playing Fez, but in the hazy days afterwards I did stumble across some clearer clues, and to be honest, despite being an editor for nearly eight years now and priding myself on knowing English and idioms and the way language works–well, I’d never have figured this out. I’m just not familiar enough with that phrase.

I skipped the bell. I skipped the clock. I skipped the pyramid sitting in water, which clearly had some kind of hidden door below it. I skipped that treasure chest just beneath the ground, the one where you could only see its silhouette. I skipped that room with all the doors. I skipped all those weird pillars that your floating glowthing guide would point out in wonderment. I skipped that weird door that only revealed itself when the sun set. I skipped a lot of parts that seemed important, but were undecipherable, and I’m okay with that. Fez really is two games in one, and I appreciate that there’s a crazy complicated child in it, but prefer the straightforward runthrough over it. The platforming is adequate and quite simple, but the experience of entering a door, finding a new level, and learning how to climb up it via spinning was quite relaxing…and rewarding. Mostly because when you collected a whole cube, glorious beams of light and sunshine shot out of little Gomez.

After the “kill screen” craziness is over, you can start a New Game+ to go and find those bereaved cubes and anti-cubes. I jumped in out of curiosity and played around with one of the new abilities you earn for finishing the game once. It’s neat, but I’m not sure how it’s really going to help unlock more cubes. And that said, I just don’t think I’m going to go after ’em. Fez was a great experience to play part in, learning and not learning and trudging through it stupidly, but now that I know a few things–not everything, mind you–it just seems less fantastical. I wish I could’ve figured it all out on my own, but I’m not terribly distraught that I didn’t.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #14 – Fez

As the Fez world turns
So do symbols, clues, cubes, keys
Too dumb to grok it

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.