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El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is Biblical apocrypha in videogame form

el-shaddai-ascension-of-the-metatron final thoughts

Back in March 2013, there was a random sale on the Xbox Games on Demand marketplace section hub, and the cheapest deal among reduced prices was $2.50 for El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. I knew nothing about the game, but it had an intriguing–if long-winded–name, and a couple of screenshots told me that I was guaranteed to play something at least visually striking. So I pulled the trigger, promptly downloaded 6 GB of unknown stuff, and played the first two chapters, unsure of what to make of things. Several months later, I came back to the game and burned through the remaining chapters over a couple of nights, and I’m still unsure of what to think. I like a lot of El Shaddai, but some aspects are of the fun-ruining frustrating ilk.

The game’s plot is heavily inspired by the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which follows Enoch, a scribe searching for seven fallen angels in hopes of preventing a great flood from destroying mankind. He is helped in this epic quest by Lucifel, a guardian angel in charge of the protection of the world who exists outside of the flow of time, and four Archangels. However, there’s a modern spin here, as Lucifel, voiced by an unrecognizable Jason Isaacs, uses a cell phone to converse with God, and several levels are set in a futuristic, Tron-like cityscape. Basically, you are trying to climb a tower, defeating fallen angels on each level, until you get to the top, to defeat the fallenest of all angels and save the world from the wrath of…God? Satan? Y’know, to be honest, I don’t really know which is the opposing force in this game.

Gameplay is mostly hack-and-slash action in the same vein as Devil May Cry, with the ability to knock an enemy in the air and juggle them with sword swipes. Er, sorry–I mean arch swipes. Enoch gets three different weapon types as he progresses: an arch for quick slashes, a gale for ranged attacks, and a veil for slow, but devastatingly powerful punches capable of shattering weapons. You can pull off some combos, as well as steal an enemy’s weapon to replace your own and take them down a notch. I found fighting Gale-wielding enemies to be the most challenging, but you eventually learn all the patterns. For bosses, it’s all about patience and waiting for an opening to attack. If you do die, you can mash some of the buttons repeatedly to revive yourself, and on Normal difficulty, you could do this four or five times, which made getting through some unrelenting fights possible.

Visually, El Shaddai is a delight. Every chapter offers something completely different, and the best-looking stuff can be found in the interim platforming levels connecting two chapters. There’s one section early on that I found myself smiling through its entirety, despite the challenge being presented. There’s a lot of pinks and purples and watercolor-like washing for background skies, as well as strange geometry throughout. Enoch and Lucifel have a pretty stylized, hair-billowing anime look to them, though I found most of the fallen angels to be boring design-wise considering they all wear the same getup for most of their battles.

Two things really bothered me with El Shaddai, and they both have nothing to do with its religious slant. One: the platforming sucks. Like, no. It’s some of the worst. You can barely tell where Enoch is going to land when he jumps, and the controls are so twitchy that, oftentimes, you’d still fall off a platform after getting there in one piece. Considering that platforming is how you move from one event to another, it needed to be tighter. Two: there’s no indication on-screen of how much damage Enoch was able to take, and how hurt the bosses were. Most of the time, it was impossible to tell, and some weapons are ineffective against certain foes and armor, causing me to second guess my choices. Strangely, after you beat the game, you are given the ability to turn on health gauges for Enoch and bosses. Yeah, that’s a bit boggling.

I will not be going back to play El Shaddai on a higher difficulty, but there’s an Achievement or two left that seem feasible. Otherwise, a gorgeous game with a plot that’s hard to concentrate on, given that the screen is just one explosion of artistic beauty after another. Play it to see.

To infinity and Beyond Good & Evil HD once again

Beyond Good & Evil was one of the first videogames I wrote about publicly during my first attempt at videogame journalism. That was…about four years ago. And the game itself came out in late 2003. So, like eight years later, thanks to a crazy good Cyber Monday sale, I happily tossed down $3.00 for Beyond Good & Evil HD, which is the same game that I played on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007, but now with a shiny coating of high definition. To me, it kinda looks the same, but that’s probably because I don’t have an HD TV and therefore can’t pinpoint the differences.

Well, there is Achievements now. Here’s the two I’ve popped so far:


Hovercraft (5G): Power up the hovercraft


Gamble King 1 (5G): Win 3 times in the coconut shell game against Peepers

I kind of forgot how much I loved this game. I love the short musical cues that play when you enter the lighthouse or when you discover a new item; I love how Latino AI Segundo pronounces Jade’s name as Yade; I love collecting photos of strange Hillys wildlife and earning money for them; I love getting emails on the fly; I love the Star Wars vibe that a culture of homo sapiens, rhino people, and sharkfaces can live in mutual harmony; I love the give-and-take relationship that is Jade and Pey’j. I love lots here.

That said, some parts haven’t aged well–such as mouth movements not being synched to spoken dialogue–but it’s easy to overlook this kind of stuff when the game is so welcoming and enchanting. It starts fast, and really doesn’t slow down unless you want it to. There’s races to win, looters to chase down, photos to take, and security buildings to infiltrate. I paused last night before starting the mission to rescue Double H and find out what went wrong on his last mission for the IRIS Network. That starts the sneaking stuff, which is a blast, but Tara and I had to give LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 some attention for a bit. To further hit home how much I love me some Beyond Good & Evil, I was wishing the entire time LEGO Mr. Weasley and LEGO Tonks were putting out LEGO fire that I was back on Hillys, snapping photos and skipping across glimmering water.

However, I’m not looking forward to winning the pellet game against Francis for his Pearl. Not one bit.

But yeah, $3.00 for a game I already own and paid over $20.00 on years ago…yeah, it’s love. Shame on you if you didn’t pick this up on Cyber Monday. Shame, shame, shame.

Hack and slash through dungeons in Crimson Alliance, but don’t pick up loot

I gave up trying to beat Barrett in Deus Ex: Human Revolution last night well after my twenty-fifth save reload and decided to scour the Xbox Live games marketplace for anything else, to see what was new, to find an easier experience that would get me muttering or wringing controllers’ necks. And I found it relatively quickly with Crimson Alliance, a new downloadable game that gives off a Diablo/Torchlight vibe, but with a co-op slant.

And it is that. It’s totally a Diablo/Torchlight clone. Minus the great loot. There’s little loot to speak of. More on that in a moment.

Actually, the main reason I downloaded Crimson Alliance was not because it looked like a simple, mindless hack n’ slasher–one that would not get me even more worked up inside–but because it was FREE. That’s right. It’s a free game. Says so on the tin. Well, maybe. The lines between free game, trial, and demo are significantly blurred here, and I’m sure this is all just a big trick being played on consumers by Microsoft Studios and Certain Affinity to get folks in for an appetizer and then staying for dinner. To add even more words to the mix, if one purchased all Summer of Arcade games this year–Bastion, From Dust, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Fruit Ninja Kinect, and Toy Soldiers: Cold War–then one definitely got a free–and full–version of Crimson Alliance.

So, I downloaded this free game as a storm began brewing outside. Rain and lightning and rumbling thunder. Wonderfully atmospheric gaming sounds, so long as the power doesn’t cut out. Upon starting up, I was given the choice of one of three characters: the mercenary Gnox, the wizard Direwolf, and the assassin Moonshade. I went with her, and the game informed me that if I wanted access to all things Moonshade, I’d have to buy her. See, you can either buy the game completely, purchase classes individually, or, uh, play the free version with little to no fanfare to speak of. And it seems like you can play about the entire first level, a little bit of a shop, and a smidgen into the second level before being booted back to the main menu. The game constantly reminds you that, hey, you can unlock the full game if you want, just press here to do so. You want Achievements or better equipment or the nudity code? Unlock full version here.

Speaking of Achievements, for some reason, I now have Crimson Alliance added to my list of owned games. This means I can look at the list of 12 Achievements, something you don’t get to do with game demos, and see what there is to unlock. However, can’t unlock anything. Gotta upgrade for that sweetness. Which leaves me no choice but to delete the game from my hard-drive and hopefully permanently remove it from my owned games list. Cause I’m not interested in owning it, and that’s mainly because it’s more Gauntlet than Torchlight, and I’m all about the loot over social beatdowns. There’s less focus on loot and RPG elements here and more on slashing at waves of enemies and solving room puzzles with a partner.

That said, the game has some striking still art, strong narration, and an easy-to-get-into feel. Just a lack of crazy cool gear. Not for me, but your mileage may vary.

Hense, the Goddess of Pain and Pleasure, loves this blog post about Bastion’s difficulty

Suddenly, the Kid died three times in a row, unable to stop the swarm of Squirts and Gasfellas from overwhelming him with their lethal attacks. Up until that point, the Kid had never fallen in battle; sure, he’d come close, exiting the battlefield just barely, chugging his last bottle of health potion, wiping the sweat from his brow, quietly ignoring the narrator’s snide commentary. So, what had changed? Did the Bastion developers decide to ramp up the game’s difficulty without rhyme or reason?

Nope. What happened was that I built a shrine at the Bastion and turned on all of the god-like idols, thinking they were there to help and bestow great benefits on the Kid. Actually, they do the opposite of that. They make the game a whole heap-load harder, rewarding the Kid with more XP, but chances are that XP won’t be gained due to the fact that these enemies are now faster, stronger, and more deadly. Some even drop exploding bombs upon death, one last eff you before the darkness takes them. Because Bastion suffers from the tiny text disease, I couldn’t read the flavor text that went with turning on each idol and decided that surely they existed to help us on our journey to rebuild the Bastion. The idols also stack, meaning you could turn on a dozen and really wish your thumbs never existed. I believe I had turned on Acobi, Pyth, and one other idol before heading out to find Shards. Eep.

So, to help me and my bad eyesight out in future adventuring, here’s a table of all the idols you can unlock at the Bastion’s shrine, as well as what they do to ramp up the game’s difficulty:

Idol Description
Hense (Goddess of Pain and Pleasure) Foes are more ferocious
Acobi (Goddess of Oath and Abandon) Foes drop a live grenade when defeated
Lemaign (God of Hope and Despair) Foes’ attacks slow down the player
Pyth (God of Commotion and Order) Foes are quicker, both with movement and attacks
Jevel (God of Health and Atrophy) Foes are more resilient
Yudrig (God of Impulse and Bravery) Foes cause damage on contact
Roathus (God of Thirst and Plenty) Foes never drop Health Tonics or Black Tonics
Micia (Goddess of Loss and Longing) Foes have regenerating health
Olak (God of Chance and Whim) Foes occasionally turn to air, making them invulnerable to attacks for a short period of time
Garmuth (God of Purpose and Folly) Foes are more capable of deflecting attacks

Yeah, imagine all of those idols turned on at the same time. Can’t even stomach it. Thank goodness there’s no Achievement tied to utilizing these idols or anything; they are just there if you, the player, really want a different experience. I think I’m content with the default difficulty for now and will not be going back to the shrine any time soon.

Hard to say how far along in Bastion I am, but I’d wager either halfway done or a little more than halfway done. I’ve been using the machete and the scrap musket religiously, and haven’t really done much with secret skills. I constantly forget that I have a third attack. Oh well. Here’s to remembering things and reading important text then!

The Paul gives his impressions on the first hour or so of Bastion

Like most gaming entertainment, Bastion begins with some narration. This is to set the scene, tell a little backstory, get the proverbial ball rolling. However, with Supergiant Games’ first release, there’s a hook; the narration never stops. Voiced by Logan Cunningham, the game’s narrator is ever watchful and never a bit shy to comment on the fact that you’re slashing everything in your path apart or that you need to leave that adopted pet in your stronghold alone for now or that you went left instead of right first. It’s interesting and a little creepy, but it certainly gives one a sense of their own experience, something true to only them, and that their version of the Kid is being role-played as they deem.

Bastion is about rebuilding. An event known as the Calamity has split the world into a series of floating islands, and the Kid, our silent protagonist, heads to the Bastion, a safe haven of sorts that his people created to live at protected during these hard times. Unfortunately, upon arrival, it is clear that there is a lot of work yet to be done, and so the Kid sets off across the floating map to find new resources. So far, I’ve been able to upgrade the Bastion with two new buildings: a distillery and a forge. The former is a place of potions and magical unctions, and the latter lets you tweak your current weapons with passive abilities, such as improving the speed of your bow or your chance to land a critical hit with that mighty hammer. Standard RPG flair, but the stat personalizing and slight customization is welcomed.

The game is highly stylized, with gorgeous artwork, vibrant colors, and a playing field that forms all around the Kid as he moves forward. It’s amazing to see the path constructing right before your feet for the first time, and it’s still equally amazing the fortieth time it happens. Kudos to the developers for that neat trick. The monster designs are adorable, like something from a Hayao Miyazaki film. At times, the camera zooms in for a closer look at the action, which I greatly appreciated. Every place is a place of import, nabbing a cool name that any fan of epic fantasy fiction will love. My personal favorites: The Rippling Walls and Breaker Barracks.

If there’s one complaint I could toss onto the field it’s that the dynamic narrator is sometimes talking right as a swarm of Squirts appear out of nowhere and attack the Kid. Unfortunately, at that point I am more concerned with staying alive and swiping my enemies to bits to really listen, meaning I’ve missed out on whatever he said. Granted, it might have been something minor, but it might not have been. A narration log would be nice, or some kind of codex to keep track of everything. Also, at least for me and my television from 2005, Bastion is another example of a tiny text game.

But so it starts:


The Stranger (10G): Complete the Wharf District.

Looking forward to building more of the Bastion tonight after work.

Sign me up for Bastion based on its beautiful art alone

Seems like I can’t go a day without coming across a new game that intrigues me and makes me go, “Yeah, Pauly, ya big gaming addict…that’s something you’ll probably like.”

Today’s like du jour is called Bastion, which I guess actually began its life cycle as a PC game, but it’ll be coming to Xbox Live somewhere around Q3 2011. It stars a silent kid known as, well, the Kid, who is trying to create the Bastion, a safe haven of sorts where his post-apocalyptic city pals can go to for protection, especially after the recent event known as the Calamity Split, which splintered the world into floating islands. It’s described as a role-playing action game, and it looks beyond stunning. Vibrant colors and a world in constant motion, as the ground reassembles as the Kid moves forward, which is pretty amazing to see as it happens, help make this game look freakin’ alive. And there’s story choices, too, dynamically changing how your playthrough happens and how Bastion‘s narrator reacts; an Achievement exists for completing New Game+, which is always a good thing, and makes picking different choices all the more easy.

Go on. Fall to your knees:

No more details are available on price and exact release date. Will be keeping my eyes peeled for this as the days creep on by.

Fun and funny times with Guybrush Threepwood

Why did nobody tell me that Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge was one of the funniest pieces of videogame medium ever to be crafted? Well? What’s your big excuse?! Don’t tell me it’s because you lost your monocle either.

In truth, I guess I always knew it was a bit funny, seeing as it always came up in gaming forums and such as a good time. Yet I never got to play it, or any other entries in the series, and dang it, I’m now totally kicking myself. The writing is top-notch, with some of the best dialogue choices ever to be selected. Seriously, Tara and I spent minutes trying to decide if we wanted to Guybrush to say “I’ll BE back!” or “I’ll be BACK!” These things matter, people. And while the voice acting is new for the special Xbox Live remake and done with great personality, the writing remains the same text that was typed up way back in, uh, December 1991. It takes coconuts to do some of the things LucasArts did here, but without ’em, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge would be a less special game; the fact that you can basically make Guybrush beg and plead for a shopkeeper’s item despite never getting it is beyond the call of duty, but oh so wonderful.

The game’s funny, but somewhere in the middle of Act II, the one where you have to find four map pieces for Big Whoop, I had to trade in laughing a few times for Googling walkthroughs. Some of these puzzles are just plain obtuse, and I have to imagine it was a real struggle eons ago when your best solution was to just click everything and then click everything on everything. More in-game clues would’ve been appreciated, and I’m not talking about the brand new hint addition, which I’m not using in order to unlock an Achievement come the credits. Speaking of those delicious pingers, here’s a couple Achievements I’ve unlocked too that I find to be pretty great:


Old School (5G): Switched to classic mode at least once


Five Minutes Later… (10G): Allowed Guybrush to die.


Call 9-1-1 (10G): Called the LucasArts helpdesk when walking through the jungle on Dinky Island.

All right, so we’re on the home stretch now actually. The final island, which is a mess of jungle paths. Just finally ended my little talk with Herman. Now I gotta take down LeChuck…again?