Arby's Backlog Hell Arbiter Libera’s profile
~ Let's Get Some Games Done ~
An Ongoing Exercise in Clearing the Backlog Extraordinaire
Nothing special here for now, really. Just my updates divided for somewhat navigable lists using the artwork I used when updates were originally published. Maybe I'll add more to the "homepage" at some point, but this is serviceable for now.
Update itself was supposed to be meatier, but one game turned out longer than expected so I'll finish it incognito. I would like to use this opportunity to heap praises upon the tireless fan translation community which has made so many formerly obscure games available to audiences unable to understand Japanese. In this particular case I opted for somewhat less known titles and went in blind. I bring you the following; King of Demons (grim action platformer of controllers snapping variety) and Violinist of Hameln (escort quest re-defined with platformer puzzles galore). It should be pointed out I do not claim credit for any of screenshots attached seeing as I merely found them online. Oh, there are also some novels I reviewed in a new streamlined format for your pleasure. Enjoy the read.
I would also like to pose a question to my readers – what are your favorite fan translations, if any? Are there games out there you would've regretted have you not had the chance to try them thanks to community efforts? I know I for one would not have gotten around to Live A Live or even more acclaimed titles like Star Ocean, for example. Japan was particular about what they were bringing over to English during the '90s.
This is also a good opportunity to point out I’ll most likely be taking a break from regular updates for a while. Have some RL stuff that needs tending to and a coworker got me into FF14 again with the release of its recent expansion. Means you get a break from my walls of text. :D
Holy shit, son. Looking back at its 1995 release, and SNES being a Nintendo console, I can kinda understand why a game like Majyūō aka King of Demons would never reach audiences outside Japan and in many ways that's a shame. Somewhat simplistic leading to my frustration fighting with enjoyment more and more as the game went on.
I assume there is more to this story in the manual provided you can read Japanese, but from what we're told in the game you're a badass dude called Abel who has to go down the very depths of hell to save his daughter and wife after they get kidnapped. What amused me at first is you're just a dude armed with a gun, pistol with deadly potential to stunlock, before your unceremonious “upgrade” following the thrashing you get in the opening bit. Let me just tell you upfront that despite getting encouraged by your loving wife, daughter and even the family cat pawing at you there is no happy ending to this story and I wish I got more of the story beyond some boss taunting and finale. Game includes then still rarely used voice clip for chilling effect later on.
Upgrade? There is no way to be nice about it so I'll just say it upfront – you defeat bosses, they drop crystals and you become a demon to handle your action platforming business. Only the earliest parts of King of Demons will have you playing as regular dude, albeit one who can shoot a Hadouken style energy attack if you hold down attack, and sadly staying purely human throughout the game is not possible. I know because I tried. In that case progression will simply stop after you defeat the next boss, timer will count down and you're stuck in a no-win loop until you spend all your lives. So you gotta choose and there are three main forms depending on which colored crystal you take. I won't go into details, but it's a smaller faster, normal balanced and larger stronger formula. Considering this is a primarily RANGED game, and you need to kill enemies to upgrade your health, what you really need to look out for is what kind of attacks each form has. For example, I found the small fast knock off Devilman the best even if I had to content with his somewhat unpredictable boomerang attack. At least it was spammable and you'll want that because area control is king. I've found health to be exceedingly rare and only in the last level did cannibalizing some enemies become viable, or perhaps I never noticed it because the game sure won't tell you about it.
Good or bad? I don't know, but I'd think real hard first. It goes back to controller snapping urge King of Demons invoked in me. I'm not that type, but games that ease you in and then pull the rug from under you are the worst. It's almost easy at first and when you get your first demon form it's like Christmas came early. Then the last level rolls and game throws a boss gauntlet at you with slim recovery chances unless you cheese it. And final boss. And then the real final boss. It is difficult to put into words how frustrated I got simply because I could not sustain high enough health. Impressive visuals, though.
Violinist of Hameln is definitely a game I can see having appeal, but would also say ends up divisive depending on how much you
like can stand escort missions in games. I say that because the entire game has you babying a side character, which is admittedly also the one solving most of the puzzles, while the protagonist himself does the bare minimum. Prior to playing the game I had no idea it was based on existing manga so it's a safe bet I just got the bare minimum out of it as an ignoramus.
A wandering minstrel called Hamel comes upon a village which seems to be plagued by some kind of monster invasion coming from a nearby castle. They have no idea what to do about it and somewhat cowardly aloof protagonist hears their pleas for help while a local girl named Flute seems ecstatic about the prospect... just as the village elder offers her to Hamel as payment for saving their village. He accepts and so begin humorous adventures of the unlikely pair, as well as Hamel's talking crow familiar Oboe, as they travel through various equally musically-named places and fight bosses like Trombone and such. It is hinted at and pointed towards the finale of the game there is more to our “hero” than meets the eye and he may have ties with demons, but is doing the right thing regardless and maybe fighting his destiny. I wish the story continued rather than ending in open ended fashion it does, though. Guess I should check out the source material if it's available.
At its core Violinist of Hameln is a gorgeous looking platformer with strong puzzle elements. Keep in mind when I say “puzzle” I really mean “Flute can wear costumes you find/buy and acquire new powers”. In practice this translates to the following – you come across a pit of spikes and can't progress anymore, but you also found this weird Ostrich costume some time back. Enter the menu, make Flute wear the costume and you can now get across. There is quite a number of costumes, and some do end up overlapping to add more progression, but it is nonetheless an intriguing mechanic because later on game stops spelling out which costume to use where in the levels. Speaking of levels, each world map has zones comprised of multiple levels and they're definitely in small enough bits. This brings us to the game's sidekick Flute who happens to be your permanent companion following you through levels, but you have little direct control over her beyond telling her to stop or follow. Which can be a problem when you need to navigate through levels. It's something you get used to and game never demands pixel perfect accuracy or insane reflexes to get through. There are some helpful items you can buy at village stores like more time in levels or taking less damage, but I never found myself needing either.
Taking into account you can upgrade your health size, attack range four your flute as well as get more lives, on top of game giving you unlimited continues, I can safely say we've entered an age where console platformers decided to mellow out a tiny bit. This is an approachable title I would recommend to most people because of the inviting visuals, humor and ease of play.
Earthworks ( ₪ Science Fiction, ☑ 1965, ⇲ 155 pages )
Novel presents a dystopian future where Earth has been polluted to such a degree that minority of people is forced to live in cities that stand apart from the ground on mechanical elevation and where even the smallest of crimes will get you sent to the Farms upon which you're expected to die working so cities can keep on going... that's the majority of the population. Both life styles are presented as horrible, but there is hope in the form of Travelers who move about and try to live a free life despite being hunted down by police and robots which effectively makes them terrorists of this reality. It's a grim world and our protagonist has mental issues on top of it all which result in him hallucinating things that may not be there. Novel follows his escapades throughout this world after crashing an automated freighter before some major revelations are made about African countries being the new rising power due to their largely untarnished land that can still be used to grow food and this does not sit well with current Powers That Be.
I cannot rightfully say whether I enjoyed Earthworks and to what degree. Its biggest weakness probably lies in characters themselves which are Aldiss' regular Achilles' heel from what I've experienced so far. Setting is interesting, but whenever people start speaking it begins to rely on author telling you what they're saying versus characters themselves, well, saying it. It's a weird style and I have a feeling it may be a personal dislike of mine. Story also sadly ends just as the finale is being set up and our protagonist Knowle finally commits to it. Talking about general broad strokes I'd say Earthworks delivers a heavy handed ecological message worth reading in modern times.
The Violent Century ( ₪ Alternative History, ☑ 2013, ⇲ 352 pages )
I don't know when was the last time I started reading a book while knowing nothing about it beforehand, but I think it worked out in this case. This is a superhero novel albeit not one in the sense you probably imagine. It starts during WW2 when a certain German scientist devises a peculiar device that ends up sending mysterious "waves" across the world giving very few people super powers. What makes this interesting, other than the fact Yanks' RL superheroes would be styled after cape comics compared to everyone else's, is the fact these Changed-People or Ubermenschen if you're German and your superior race argument just got a tangible leg up, is the fact they're immortal unless actually killed. This leads to portrayal of events over said century as novel touches on major happenings like Vietnam, etc as seen from perspective of the Brits who feel slightly waylaid by the rise of US and Russia with their own brand of nationalistic superheroes. Thankfully, this offsets somewhat poor characterization of our protagonist Fogg, and Oblivion, who subscribe to that "special ops in tweed" style their government opted to use superheroes with during the war. Book does have some similarities with the Watchmen and mainly deals with how immortals recruited to a World War cope with life they don't recognize and just what the hell is Project Sommertag?
The Violent Century gets a thumbs up from me. Sure, it's not perfect and I'd argue it suffers from this very terse approach to dialog it went with, not to mention following a story that jumps between decades and couple of characters in a short span takes a while to get used to, but the premise of seeing flawed super heroes who are essentially timeless soldiers out of touch and time is engaging.
Finches of Mars ( ₪ Science Fiction, ☑ 2013, ⇲ 187 pages )
In the future, mankind, spurned on by a new organization titled United Universities or UU, has settled Mars. Taking into account UU is comprised of major universities across old Earth and they have the final say said new settlement on Mars took form of six towers divided by regional/political lines. Some obvious like Chinese or West, and some like Singa-Thai or Sud-Am less so. Keep in mind going to Mars is a one-way trip due to costs and few accept this self-imposed exile, but there are those do and Finches of Mars follow people in Western tower as troubles arise both on the red planet and back home. Stillbirths plague Martian women as no successful child births have yet to occur bringing the viability of the entire project in question because they are entirely dependent on UU's backing. To make matters worse, albeit coming off as tangential to these new Martians due to distance, things are getting worse on Earth as new conflicts between nations escalate. How will people on both sides deal with the rising tensions and problems?
Putting aside my own bias against Brian Aldiss aside I have to say I'm not a fan of FoM. Which sadly coincides with this being his last novel. Signature uninteresting characters strike back, although this time fault of the setting itself as new colonists are assigned randomly generated names to “let go of their old identities”, and a lot of the plot points are just dropped or forgotten about. Don't get me started about that goddamn ending that has nothing to do with anything and completely blindsided me. What even was that?
So here we are with another update and it's a Grab-bag. Particularly one where I go back my childhood and re-visit three NES games. No, I'm not that old and my first experience with NES actually comes from a bootleg console we somehow bought. It came with a cartridge containing some 600+ games? I don't even remember properly. I did get to play on the actual Nintendo console couple of years later when SNES was already out for a while. I was late to the party and I think that shaped my interests a lot more than I realized. Primarily resulting in Nintendo not really holding nostalgic sway over me like it does for many.
Without further delay:
- Double Dragon - home console progenitor of the beat ‘em up craze proper,
- Contra - genre classic and distillation of what it stands for at its purest,
- Gyruss - surprising dark horse of this three-legged race… IN SPACE.
Giving this post a read over reminds me I need to actively trim some fat in the future. Supposedly “short reviews” are becoming longer and longer. Again.
As my first go-to choice for a retro review I decided to opt for Double Dragon in order to see if it lives up to its challenge seeing as, back in the day at least, I only played through Mission 1 and actually gave up on the game because it was relatively easy. Of course, I was a dumb kid back then with too much time on my hands so what could I possibly know? And yet answer provided is not as straightforward as you would imagine.
To get some scant narrative basics out of the way first – your girl gets
FALCON PUNCHED gut punched and kidnapped by some rough looking dudes. Your time to shine has come as you embark on a journey to save her across four missions. Really, that's it. Unless you go into equally as brief manual that's all you'll get and is everything you need in a beat 'em up. Said manual provides information on enemies, moves and even spoils upcoming levels and who the final boss is. In fact, it's where you learn our protagonist's name is Billy Lee.
Actual gameplay is where Double Dragon will throw a curve ball at you. At its most basic Double Dragon discourages mashing attack buttons and rather wants you to get technical and pull off moves because you get points for doing so. Accumulating 999 of those will increase your proficiency level represented by hearts and subsequently unlock even more moves. So what does that translate to in practice? Basically, you want to keep enemies alive for as long as possible and pull off your spin kicks and uppercuts whenever you can. Which becomes somewhat difficult as you face more challenging types later on and realize cheesing it with jump kicks is the easiest way to deal with them, especially when you max out your level. And then... there are platforming sections with controls too stiff and requiring two button presses to execute required jumps and avoiding falling stalagmites. These sections, most likely meant to vary the game up a bit, were the worst parts of it and I lost count how many replays they forced on me. That is until you get to the final boss. Or should I say final gauntlet because you'll first fight everything game has to throw at you before facing off with /cue dramatic drum-roll your brother. Fighting your mirror should be tricky until you realize it's the only instance in the game where MASHING will work. He is faster than you and there are no weapons to help you in the arena so corner his ass and pray those spin kicks/back elbows come out fast enough.
So where does Double Dragon fall in terms of my expectations? It's a very solid game in its own right with some minor pacing issues notwithstanding. Real problem is you get two lives with no chance to acquire more. Ever. Health bar is mercifully replenished between zones, of which there are multiple in four missions game offers, but what you see is what you get. There are probably ~20 minutes of game in Double Dragon and it took me under three hours to finish with my last life to spare. Hard sell unless you're into embracing frustration. There is also mode B which turns Double Dragon into a fighting game for two players to face-off, but I think that's hardly the seller here. Two-player co-op may hold more appeal.
What have I learned having finally finished Contra veritable decades after its original release back in 1988? Definitely an iconic game for the system and one of those titles forever brought up, with a title jingle now ingrained in my brain, I would hesitate to make the call on whether it genuinely falls under “Nintendo hard” list of games. It's certainly nowhere near easy, but I found that most levels only really tripped me good couple of times. From then on it was just about proper execution... pun intended.
So what is it? Conventional wisdom would call it a scrolling shooter, but I think aptly coined “Run and Gun” fits perfectly here. I say that because Contra isn't married to horizontal scrolling and varies it a bit with perspective switches for couple of [notably easier] levels where it goes for... I'm not sure what to call it. Fixed perspective? In any case it has you firing up and simulates the character moving forward through a corridor. This still stays within the game's genre of choice and isn't jarring once you're used to it. On the story front – it's the late '80s and something horrible from outer space has landed in South America. It falls up to our burly Special Forces hero to save the day. Bring a friend if you have a P2 controller ready.
Contra is a blast even today. It will bust your balls, but once you have that Spread gun you better hold onto it like your life depends on it because it does. By far the best screen clearing weapon of the select few you'll find in capsules and bunkers you shoot down – laser is far too slow and I haven't really found flamethrower often enough to make it a worthwhile substitute, for example. You will want as much coverage as possible to keep blasting away as you platform among enemy gunfire and other obstacles. Which is good because other than handful of gear options you can find and ability to gain more lives, this game does not give you a lot to work with. Toolset is basic which in turn means mastering it becomes instrumental to victory. There is no health bar so every hit equals a lost life and you will burn through pitiful three lives you start out with incredibly fast. Keep in mind there's also no password save system in Contra meaning it's jungle time whenever you GAME OVER and you begin to see where infamous difficulty comes from, but I would argue that's because you activate a death spiral once you die. Getting that Spread gun and losing it upon death in later levels means you might as well restart the game and play smarter this time. I do wish game had more enemy variety to throw at you, though. It's all variations of soldiers and turrets who will, naturally, open fire at you. Only in the very last level when aliens get thrown into the mix do you get to see some variety, but even than it becomes more about breaking muscle memory because you now have to evade melee enemies. Which may be why I died more than I should have at the final boss considering he likes to spawn these purple bozos to throw at you.
So yeah, game gets a thumbs up from me. Contra is still a title that's eminently playable because of how responsive it manages to be decades later. Directional shooting is taken for granted and reduces difficulty in that aspect if you don't rush. I think the fixed camera corridor levels could've been expanded upon a bit, but I also saw them as breaks from the main game.
People have the weirdest nostalgic games that sometimes defy those conventional “these are the best games available on the system” lists out there. For me one of those is undoubtedly Gyruss in its simplicity and days I spent on it as a kid must have been great. Even though all I remember was a space ship going around the screen in circles and creepy opening track. What I was actually surprised to find out in the present is the game really was sort of a lightweight.
There are two story screens in the game – about how mankind is under attack and finale screen where you save the day. Not that manual provides those usual tidbits we've come to expect. What you'll be doing in practical terms is flying from the edges of our Solar system towards the sun itself where a great mystery awaits. Game's map will show you passing to and past other planets in our system as each journey consists of three warps aka stages, third always ending with a boss battle. I remember this blew my mind back in the day and probably kickstarted a brief obsession with all things space related. With bonus stages accounted for, and you will want to because those are where you'll get extra stuff to keep you alive considering this is one of those “any contact kills you” kind of games, there's a total of 39 stages which is impressive. They're short, but game does vary it up by introducing new enemy types and making things spicy with how much more chaotic game becomes.
Speaking of which what do you actually do? Well, Gyruss is one of those relatively uncommon “tube shooters”. Which means your ship rotates clockwise and counter-clockwise, with unusual controls that will probably get you killed until you grow accustomed to how they work seeing as you need to actually make a circle with your gamepad to perform a full 360 rotation aka merely holding LEFT or RIGHT will not rotate you fully in either direction because UP or DOWN need to get involved as well, as enemies come at you in weird arcs and rotations of their own from beyond the screen. Truly weird aspect is they're harmless to you and considering they come in very neatly arrayed manner if you position yourself correctly and hammer the laser button you can take them out for a score bonus. This way you also rid yourself of the real issue enemies present – if you fail to destroy them as they move inward toward the center of the screen they will nestle there, become much smaller targets to acquire and open fire on you or throws asteroids. That's the basic mechanic involved, but Gyruss varies it up with enemy offering as it goes on up to including some especially vicious like one that teleports right in front of your ship and you have a second to react, rotating enemies where one side is invulnerable so you need to time your shots, enemies that break off into shards and create cover for everyone else, etc. Pretty breathtaking variety for very simple base idea. You'll be glad to hear your little ship is not entirely useless against all of the above, though. Basic laser can be upgraded to firing two shots and is absolutely invaluable in keeping you afloat and in addition you also have cannons which will one-hit kill everything except bosses. This is deemed enough to go and save the galaxy with so good luck. No shields or anything, but game is fortunately pretty generous with how it dispenses extra lives and spare cannon ammo so I never really found myself saving the later. It is handy to have a few for later bosses.
In all honesty this may be a case of strong nostalgia overtaking actually taking a critical look at a game. Is it a bad title? Hell no and you will still die until you figure out the gimmick of all the enemies game throws at you in seconds you have to react. I think it just depends on how much you're into the genre already and Gyruss never managed to hook me in the first place. Supposedly an improved port if that's a deciding factor in which version you play. I still had a great time playing through and even a good playthrough after you become proficient will take almost an hour or so. You'll have to get there, first.
Goddamn, this took longer than I expected it to. Splitting headache prevented me from from writing a final review earlier, but nothing of value was lost. This time I bring a light video game offering in form of Tomb Raider, the 2013 reboot. I don't think I have it in me to play the original anymore and walk away unscathed. On other front I've also finished a few TV shows for your reading pleasure: Good Omens, What We Do in the Shadows and lastly not funny Chernobyl. Enjoy the read.
That category I spoke about bringing back in last update's opening? Yeah, that was supposed to be Quizzical about E3 and your hopes/fears regarding what was going to get announced or ignored. Turns out E3 proper kicked off before I got around to posting this update so we can still talk about it while it's ongoing. I've seen EA's panel and that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order looks pretty interesting compared to their usual SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS offering. Bit too “generic action adventure” for my taste, though.
Looking back at history of Tomb Raider I am brought to realization just how many games in the series I've missed out on. Not the earliest PS1 titles with those, let's call them charming, controls, but rather installments that followed on the next generation of consoles. PC as well, of course. This puts me at odds and essentially drawing from memory as to what the series originally was. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. One should keep in mind my modern experience when it comes to “gun-totting action platformer” had been tempered already by Uncharted, though. This game strikes a resoundingly familiar tune in comparison.
Story concerns exploring this lost island called Yamatai, but it takes a while for our cast to really get into things. Understandable when you take into account their ship wrecked and things start going awry almost immediately. Even if you ignore the fact they're largely regular people, aside from Roth who happens to be ex-Royal Marine and badass to the bone, there's bad blood on the island since it turns Lara and her crew are hardly first to get stranded there. Why and how would be spoiling, but considering this is Tomb Raider and they're looking for “mythical civilization lead by the Sun Queen” I'll let you piece it together on your own. Speaking of Endurance's crew and related characters we have our own Lara Croft alongside Sam who's family is actually funding this whole expedition as kind of archaeological research. These three figures are the most important ones and game really never makes much of an effort to characterize everyone else past the intro itself and brief radio communications. You have your grumpy mechanic, fellow naive student, professor so drunk on his ego you can see disaster waiting to happen, etc. They're archetypes for the most part and if there are twists to be had you can probably how they'll unfold. Story is not really the focus of Tomb Raider as it focuses more on Lara's own journey of survival and saving others as she gets entangled with things way beyond her ability to deal with at first glance. As game likes to remind you, she's a Croft and it's in her blood, though.
Lara herself is one I have even more problems with. I remember it was all the rage back when this was a new release to toss around “ludonarrative dissonance” in order to sound smart and yet these people were not entirely wrong. What does that term mean? Put simply it's when story and gameplay narratives are at odds with one another... which happens to be absolutely true in Tomb Raider. Vulnerable girl persona they have going for Lara takes forever to wash away considering that in gameplay department you're wasting crazy cultists and wild life out to get you about ten minutes in. It's a permanent obstacle if you want to take Lara's character development seriously and I never could. To be fair there are moments later on when she's in full hardcore mode taunting enemies and they genuinely fear whoever is thinning their ranks, but such moments are far too rare and her character is not significantly altered. This one is a personal pet peeve, though – I could not stand Lara's voice. Yeah, posh Brit was always her thing, but if there's an English valley girl equivalent stereotype this is probably what it would sound like. Fact half her script seems to be grunting in pain and game mostly serves to be a sort of origin story for her character doesn't exactly help.
With all that out of the way we can finally get to gameplay and other bits
As I hinted above this was instantly familiar to me, although that could be simply because similar games have codified particular aspects like control schemes, character progression, and others over the years. If you've played one modern third-person action game you could make an argument you've played them all. In that case it's a good thing Tomb Raider is still built on very solid foundation. Yeah, Uncharted with female lead vibe is very strong, but I really liked how tight the game felt and in terms of shooting specifically I think it gave you more freedom as opposed to sticking to cover and taking potshots. In that regard maneuvering through combat zones takes a significant step forward in opposition to more static yet similar games of its time.
Cult imagery you come across in caves, which only gets stronger as you go on, is the visual highlight of the game.
Over-the-shoulder camera is game's chosen perspective, but every now and then it likes to get fancy and break out fixed angles on you.
If I had to divide it very roughly I'd say game has in equal measure platforming, combat and collecting various trinkets, but how they're distributed is not necessarily balanced out perfectly. What I mean by that is there are segments where you're on rails as setpiece after setpiece is, sometimes quite literally, firing around you and you're either doing your best to parkour your way to the objective OR shooting through waves of enemies to stay alive. For a good chunk of Tomb Raider you'll be putting combat aside and exploring zones to get all the sweet experience and collectibles. I come back to it again, but it's the latter that will actually stand in for largely absent story as you discover more about how previous shipwrecked individuals coped with their situations, find relics Lara will expand upon for some ancient Asian history, etc.
That “fully realized game” feeling is probably what I liked the most. Yes, you're unlocking weapons as Lara goes through the story and you're using scraps you collect from crates you seemingly find everywhere, even in ruins untouched by mortal hands, but it's how these weapons are incorporated into the world is what really makes them more than merely how quickly they can kill things. Shotgun can be used to clear barricades, bow used to connect two points and create a rope to traverse over, etc. Fact you can upgrade all available weapons and will keep doing so until the very end of the game means you'll have something to do. One issue that kept rearing its ugly head is lack of any real stealth for a game where you're a single person going an entire garrison and your name isn't Rambo. You can creep on enemies and even stealth execute them if you get close with your mountaineering axe, but when you take into account you have three silent weapons (bow and upgraded pistol/rifle) you really have to wonder why that's the case in the first place. As you can probably predict game dispenses with any of that and likes to throw you into gauntlets as enemies surge in waves. I did appreciate the change of pace towards the end when new enemies appear even with staying up to date with upgrades meant I was never really out of ammo. Weapons having multiple uses also means you'll be using them to gain access to more than you initially could in the world aka going back to re-visit with fast travel to collect what you missed on your first pass.
Much to my own enjoyment I was pleasantly surprised by how Tomb Raider kept up visually. Most of its failings in that department really come from intentional choices. Be they from the setting game went with (jungles and caves, until the last quarter or so when you see more variety) or simply due to trends in the industry at the time still going strong. It's a game that really wants you to mash those buttons for QTE as interaction and core part of combat itself. I could've frankly done without them in both instances, but usage was not nearly as overbearing as some other titles in the wilds. Voices, aside from our protagonist whom I've already discussed, were singularly solid and conveyed what they were supposed to be. Various voiced logs Lara finds and Roth's VA were more notable examples. Concerning music. It tends to embrace native beats except when it ramps up to emotional pieces in somewhat dramatic fashion, which fits with the kind of story of being broken down and rebuilt.
Having not even known Good Omens was getting another adaptation, first one being a radio drama I have not listened to, I can say I was definitely taken by surprise seeing the end product. This is one of those cases where staying true to the source material paid off handsomely and resulted in a show that's distinctly not formulaic despite the fact you could probably summarize it as a “buddy cop comedy”.
Like all good stories we have to start at the beginning – garden of Eden. Everyone knows the story about Adam and Eve, but what you may not know is that demon Crowley assumed the form of the snake to tempt and angel Aziraphale gave his flaming sword to Adam when he and Eve left Eden. Aside from the “did you lose your flaming sword?” that gets brought up couple of times in the show, for a surprising callback in the finale, the premise is used to setup that both of our main characters may be atypical of their angel and demon kin as both worry they may have done good and bad respectively, and wonder how it'll turn out. Main part of the story deals with the birth of Antichrist, execution of the God's Great Plan as Hell and Heaven will finally meet in Armageddon, Horsemen of the Apocalypse returning to end the world... and our two apparent protagonists, who have definitely gone native in the millennia they spent among mortals, kinda like this world and don't want to see it turned to ash. Cue intentional incompetence and well-meaning intentions to avert the end of the world as everyone seems intent on bringing it about.
Lest you think this is a production done on the cheap to capitalize on myriad of book adaptations we're seeing more and more, I'd like to reassure that's definitely not the case. This has the production values to back it up and that comes through when we witness timid Aziraphale and cheeky Crowley over the centuries as their accidental camaraderie grows seeing as they've been stationed on Earth without leave. Tennant and Sheen absolutely carry the show as the hilarious duo up to no good shenanigans and balancing each other out. Not to say other characters or their portrayals were bad, except for the kids which are meh due to child actors generally being hit or miss, but lead casting was phenomenal for a show that doesn't really go for laughs-per-minute approach and instead embraces that snarky and, for the lack of a better word, sophisticated humor that keeps you constantly entertained if that's your thing or is unbearably dull and misses the mark if it's not. This is ultimately subjective and I'm not sure how to sell a show based on the fact.
Good Omens gets a rock solid recommendation from me. Maybe because I don't really watch comedies that often, but the juxtaposition of comedic characters who are STILL taking all of this very seriously, and there are very real stakes at hand, is entertaining on its own merits to me. Making good use of Queen songs for soundtrack and expanding certain bits from the book, such as Gabriel having an actual role, doesn't detract either. That's without taking into account some genuinely witty and sharp writing as befitting considering at least one of two authors was directly involved with the show. REST IN PEACE, TERRY PRATCHETT.
What We Do in the Shadows
To be perfectly honest I have kept my eye on What We Do in the Shadows ever since I heard the show was in the works. Why? Well, because I liked the original movie. Did the show live up to its full length namesake? Only one way to find out, but let's just say the answer is both more and less straightforward than you may expect.
What's a mockumentary? Basically, it's when the characters themselves are aware of the “crew” filming them and is usually justified by characters being filmed as part of some media project on top of obviously mocking its subject. In this case we have three vampire roommates, and human familiar, living together in an old house on Staten Island. Why? They all have their circumstances for ending up in the New World, but I assure it's all highly comedic and hijinks ensue as we quickly find out these licks; husband and wife – Laszlo and Nadja – along with Nandor the Relentless, don't really know how to pass for normal humans despite centuries they have on them. Vampires of very much traditional convictions aka subjugate humans to serve as amusement, who end up relying on Nandor's human familiar Guillermo as a sort-of feeble link to humans of Staten Island as they find themselves fascinated with the area out of laziness to actually do anything past brutalizing and feeding. Did I forget to mention there's an energy vampire also living with them and they only got him on-board to help pay rent? Characters are really what makes this show, but that's where we kinda get into problems...
They didn't get together for me. Any one of these vampire, except maybe Nandor who comes off as too much of a buffoon to exist for as long as he has, could perhaps work on their own yet combining them together really brings out how similar they are. As a result it mostly comes down to differences in mannerisms. When everyone's a boisterous and domineering predator it kinda gets old quickly. Which may be why I would've liked to see more of Collin who stands distinctly apart due to his nature seeing as he gets his jollies from people's emotional state. Needless to say he works as an office worker, and has no usual vampire weaknesses in the first place, and from what we see he drives his co-worker to madness.
Problem with characters is largely remedied by the fact there's very little overarching story and What We Do in the Shadows works on episodic format for the most part. Sure, show hints at something more major when this ancient vampire comes over from Europe and seemingly charges the group with taking over the US, but it is played for laughs at the end of the day because of how incompetent they are when you get down to it. Which is strange because they have powers of mesmerism, shapeshifting and other feats of physical prowess. Absurdity and overreactions to commonplace things is where most of the comedy comes from so feel free to take what you want from that.
Would I recommend this one? Maybe. Check out the movie first because the show is essentially a remake with different cast. Or so you would think until later on in the show when a vampire council episode comes featuring a start studded cast of vampires from recent years with absences duly noted.
Before it becomes really obvious I rather liked Chernobyl as a show I should probably point out this clearly was not a documentary. As such it takes liberties, particularly with a certain character that even show itself points out in the end credits and perhaps exaggerating fallout's global consequences, and should be taken for what it is – drama made to be consumed by viewing audiences. If hard facts are what you're interested in I imagine there are better options out there.
With all of the above taken into account I still find it hard to believe Chernobyl got the mood and mindset of the time so right. Set against the horrendous events surrounding the nuclear power plant disaster near Pripyat there's the backdrop of USSR vs US and what ramifications that would end up having, Soviet inner policy with KGB influences, etc. This is all seamlessly conveyed to you as events unfold and you realize getting something done isn't exactly as clear-cut as you may think when default responses to events was to hide them under the rug until the radioactive cloud got so bad it was no longer possible to do so as other countries noted the increase in radioactivity.
What can I really say about the historical events themselves? Not much. Show will do plenty on that front; with both how it came to be, painful measures taken, and ultimately the resolution itself alongside laying the blame. What really works here is you essentially have a story that follows events from hours before nuclear catastrophe and involves many players. From our main protagonists Valery, Boris and Ulana, last of which is the above mentioned made up character meant to represent all the other scientists who actually helped Valery to deal with the escalating situation, to various other government officials, power plant workers and management themselves as well as unrelated parties. It's an all-around excellent cast, but we were fortunate to have Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard perfectly cast as chief nuclear scientist and minister of energy who have to get on-site and see what the situation really is. Things go from bad to worse. One thing that may detract from the show depending on how authentic you want your Eastern Block cinema to be, is that half the characters speak English with appropriate accents and some go full Queen's English. It grows on you as the show goes on.
Now, all of that above is also helped tremendously by some excellent cinematography at hand. I would list some standout scenes, but I think the entire show is filmed amazingly well. This is before the area became desolate and abandoned so you get that vivid panic as the government finally releases a statement about what happened and people start moving. Not to mention what follows as radiation rich zones have to be purged. Slip from your everyday town to grim depression is handled outstandingly with both visuals and limited use of music. Silence tends to speak for itself a lot in this one.
I'll end this piece the same way I started it and say Chernobyl gets a thumbs up. Keep in mind this is somewhat of a downer. It's also a whole lot of people talking about... well, less about science beyond the very basics and more about the humanistic side of it all. There's also Ulana doing the investigative bits which actually help explain how and what transpired. Not sure if I would advise binging, though.
You know what? This time I decided to leave everything to fate. Being wary to go with Challenge Me approach, I have no idea when I'll actually be able to post the next report, and left to my own devices I thought that was the safest option. Well, “my own devices” would be lying in this case because I used good ol' Wheelhaus to do the spinning for me and, taking into account couple of backups just in case, I got the following games chosen for me;
- game packing a surprise that was Hush,
- an unlikely genre candidate considering Nex Machina is out of my comfort zone,
- Saturday Morning RPG which enjoys the dubious honor of having the most annoying title to color code yet.
I had plans to resurrect an old category of mine, but I think timing is not right yet. Summer is almost upon us and certain major event will also be here soon. Can you guess which one?
Being a dense block of granite that I am, I had no idea Hush was apparently just a demo until I started actually playing and noticed the obvious where it says “Play Demo” in the main menu. Huh. I have no idea how or where I got the game, but it would still be nice to know that it's not the real deal considering dev is charging 10€ for it. So other than being a candidate for a very short review with its 10-15 minutes of play time, what is Hush?
Going by visuals alone you can tell game appears to be an action adventure of the most catch-all type, but I like how it incorporates things like light play aka you need to loosely stick to light sources or bad things will happen to you. This feeds into what brief snippet of the story you get where our titular girl is running away from someone or something and finds herself tumbling down a set of stairs leading to the basement in order to get away. Did I mention she goes there through drawn doors? Yeah, there are fantasy aspects here. There could be something way more foreboding at work, especially when you come across children locked into cells saying “they're safer” in there, but what you'll come across as enemies are weird animated barrels and flying books who have decided to sprout arms and attack our heroine. Which is where Hush's problems really begin – controls and combat. Now, I've read some opinions post fact and while I can see their issues with controls I used my Xbox One gamepad to play and didn't really experience any. What was unavoidable, though, was clunky and inadequate combat which has this “land a punch with your trusty toy, roll away, do the same again” routine instead of an actual combat system. Does that wreck the game or make it unplayable? No, but it's just awkward and shows either incompetence or lack of thought put it into designing something appealing. Which is an issue all you're left with are pretty appealing visuals, for what little we saw of the basement, and a single block dragging puzzle. I could do without that last one.
Hell if I know how you should spend your quarter hour or not in this case. It's not a broken game in any real sense and some issues can be alleviated by not using the M&K, but it's real short and needs fleshing out in all departments. This is one of those reviews that will require amending or complete rewrite when/if the game comes out.
Bullet hell games, especially the twin stick variety, aren't exactly my strong suit and when you boil them down to essentials it's about mastering higher levels of difficulty or chasing high scores. Neither is necessarily how I would spend my time with games which leaves me with typing a brief take on Nex Machina having now finished it on the easiest difficulty and partway through one higher. Amusingly enough, Rookie is the recommended difficulty for newcomers and considering even I got through it without dying until the last few stages you can assume it's definitely easy enough for anyone to give the game a whirl and walk away with something.
Story? Man, I don't know. Robots have gone crazy and seem intent on killing humanity. You're a badass dude riding an even more badass bike who swoops into levels and proceeds to kick robot ass. That's gist of it and game's ending is about as satisfactory as that. That's besides the point, anyway. What we're here for is to shoot some metallic contraptions apart and we'll get it. Over the top perspective and twin sticks control scheme work just fine in keeping visuals clear enough to not get bogged down in too many particle effects. Keep in mind that jumping in difficulty absolutely makes enemies more numerous and faster, their deadliness is never in question because one hit without a shield and you're toast, but you have a tools in up your sleeve to even the odds – trusty dodge with invincibility frames to get you out of sticky situations, which can be upgraded with power ups you get on levels to become a triple dodge and even cause explosions upon landing, to additional weapons when your basic blaster isn't enough even with wider spread. Laser, rocket, sword, etc it's all here and if you wait for the power up to rotate said offering you can usually choose which one to take. Whenever you die you also drop one of the upgrades you had, but it's not gone and you can collect it again. And I realize what I'm saying is probably 101 to experts, but you really really want to hang onto your pickups because it's the shock of forgetting you no longer have that charging laser to clear the screen that will get you. Other than wasting robots you will also be doing things like rescuing humans, destroying emitters and specific enemies, finding secrets exists and stuff like that before you clear individual levels and proceed to the next world. Good stuff.
Drawback I'd still list is inability to save during Arcade mode because developers decided giving you unlimited or 99 lives, on easy and medium difficulties respectively, was a fair exchange. It's not like the game is long or anything, but I found myself just wanting to take a break and you can't without starting all over again. What brief time I put into Nex Machina I enjoyed and might even check out other modes... even if multiplayer/avatar customization seems borked for some reason.
I'll be perfectly honest with you – I gave up on Saturday Morning RPG about halfway into episode five. Before I even get into review proper and why I did something I basically never do it should be noted this is an incomplete game seeing as episode six is still missing. So that's already something going against the game, but it turns out it really didn't matter in this particular case because base product had enough problems.
At its core this is effectively a JRPG albeit one styled after Saturday morning cartoons of yore. Admittedly, not being a US resident it did not speak to me on that level specifically, but I get what it was going for. I was personally less into G.I. Joe and Transfomers, more into Conan the Adventurer and Bucky O'Hare myself. Game comes with that kinda derpy protagonist + geek friend included. So much so the entire first episode is actually a dream that sets you up for way more... or does it? Setting and episodic, literally and figuratively, approach to it is not one of the problems game suffers from. There's a HOOD commander who will totally get you next time, suspiciously familiar vehicle transforming robots who have a show-off of their own in one of the episodes, and plenty of pop culture references anyone in the know with media should recognize. For god's sake, the Wizard with his BAD glove is your spiritual guide early on.
It's mechanics and design where game fails, sadly. Episodes are mercifully relatively short which still manages to be a problem because for overwhelming majority of play time you'll be fighting couple of re-skinned enemy types. Pair it with simplistic combat system itself relying on timing defense hits to reduce damage or varying degrees of annoyance to execute attacks of your own and you have helluva time ahead of you. See, all of that isn't really a problem and other JRPGs have done it to varying degrees of success, but the real problem with Saturday Morning RPG lies in just how common place combat is. I got bored with it by the time episode two ended, and inventory management was a separate source of annoyance that reared its ugly head at about the same time. Your attacks depend on items you've found to equip and out of about three dozen I've found probably six that weren't completely annoying to use? Add to that sticker scratching you can do before combat to gain bonuses and you're looking at a prospect of tiring your thumbs out real fast.
Should you play this one? I'd advise against it unless you've tapped out all other JRPGs under the sun. If I was honest with myself I would've probably stopped way earlier, but I hoped game would improve as it went on. It does go up in scale, at least.
Another two weeks, another update. Much to my own surprise. I kinda winged it this time seeing as Book of Demons is the kind of game I could've taken a lot more time with before penning a review, but I think I'll also keep it installed for a little while longer. On the other front I've covered Castlevania S2 and Y: The Last Man as part of my finally correctly titled Multimedia section. You can teach me to schedule, but you can't take the obsession to standardize out of me.
What do you think about actually listing what I’ve reviewed in the opening and including samples of graphical media when I review them?
Book of Demons
Action RPG time it is! Or was it hack & slash? I don't know, God of War kinda co-opted the term for some reason, but it doesn't matter because we're talking about Book of Demons and how I finally finished it... once. By their very nature these kinds of games cannot really be easily called finished yet I would list “completing the main story” as a valid quantifier. So let's delve deeply and greedily into these ephemeral loot drop tables with strong Diablo homages I got on a whim at 66% discount + coupon.
Story-wise this game knows for sure what it is and makes good use of it. Stop me if this sounds familiar: you arrive at a village tormented by demons who make their home out of a descending church that eventually goes straight to hell, and along the way you're helped by a motley crew of villagers counting among themselves a tavern girl, priest, witch and a mysterious geezer to identify your crap. Alright, some of the genders are bent, but it's the first Diablo and you love it. Major difference is Book of Demons takes a tonally different approach in a sense it embraces the self-awareness of the material it draws from and makes light of it whenever it can with references and jokes. Grimdark fantasy this is not. Characters themselves also adhere to the above and once in a while even got a smile out of me so job well done, especially not!Deckard Cain who hams it up as much as he can get away with. Outside of their gameplay functions these characters have voiced gossip topics that really let the VA shine and I did not expect such a production level from an indie game. They all eagerly expect the protagonist, whichever one of thre three you select – those being Warrior, Rogue and Mage, to get to the bottom of things and vanquish the Archdemon.
But that's about as far as I'll go regarding the story... which honestly is about what you'll get. Now it's time for systems and all the nitty-gritty.
In case you've never played Diablo or any of all the Diablo-clones out there the basic idea is you go down descending levels of ruins with steadily increasing challenge to find better loot and fight more dangerous enemies. You then return to town, identify and sell off stuff while keeping the good to advance your character. Rinse and repeat in a satisfying loop. Satisfying provided that basic moment-to-moment gameplay is on the level and it is in Book of Demons. There are couple of major differences developer committed to that really makes this game stand out among the clones, though. I'd say both are game changers in their own ways. First – there is no conventional loot in the game. Whatever could you mean, you ask? This is a part-time card building game. Wait wait wait. It's not like that. Cards are your loot. Whereas you would find Goreshovel in another game here it would be a Legendary card you can upgrade further to make it even better. You use rune cards and gold for upgrades and both are relatively plentiful when you hit your stride and learn how the game works. Second big change is the following – game runs on lanes, corridors, whatever. Meaning you can't actually navigate through levels freely and are rather constrained to tight corridors that branch. This doesn't actually affect picking up loot (hover over or click) or attacking enemies (you don't have to be directly in their face to attack), but what it does impact in a major way is positioning becomes the new king. You can get easily cornered later on and it is highly recommended to have an “escape” ability or at least something to crowd control with.
While we're on the subject of combat and enemies I might as well get into some things I liked here. Small touches like ability to dispel poison manually when you see the icon change over your health globe, getting knocked out actually knocks you out and forces you to click on the stars to wake up as well as disturbs some of your cards so you have to “fix” them before they're usable again, freezing you actually chills the interface and seriously messing with your mobility, etc. Now imagine all of those happening at the same time in one combat encounter because by god does this game love to check your resistances. While enemies do tend to be new skins as you go further down there are also quite a few enemy TYPES and some will annoy the hell out of you. Nothing like getting focus fired by flaming skeleton archers hiding behind health bars of enhanced armor you have to bust through, for example. And there are myriad of types like summoning reinforcements, suicidal variety, frequent impervious periods, etc. This is not even getting into named sub-bosses which go through phases of their own. Sadly, I think having only three major bosses is one of the game's mistakes even if they do mark major milestones. Drawing from Diablo is all fine and dandy, but considering other strides they've made adding more bosses should've been one of them as well.
Never again feel like you're stuck in a long level with only five minutes to spare before you have to leave.
Craziest thing is I'm already so far into this review and haven't talked about what is arguably the third biggest inclusion – Flexiscope. Never again will a game of this type waste your time with needlessly short or long levels when you don't have the hours to sit your ass down and play in one continuous session without losing progress. I didn't exactly see the point of Flexiscope at first simply because I accepted how I played these dungeon crawlers so far. Now I realize having the ability to set your own session length, visible in minutes and number of rewards/gold you're likely to extract, is invaluable. Yes, about five minutes for one short level option is there for when you need that fix. It goes up to 50+ minutes. Needless to say game tracks progress constantly and no “Save on Exit” is going to waste a single second as you immediately return to where you left. Having progress presented in such block format also motivates you to go push forward for that small chunk of completion. It does mean there's little unique content until you reach the bosses because it's procedurally generated and interchangeable, though. But what else is new?
So what haven't I talked about yet? Audio and visuals? Alright.
Thing Trunk developer said Book of Demons is part of their Paperverse, where they have more games planned as you can see in the game lobby where you choose Book of Demons'... book, and I think they nailed the aesthetic for sure. Traditional animation is scarce as everything is made of paper and tends to animate in that fixed fashion where it plops up and down, is jerked strongly from side to side, or such methods. You'll rarely see an elaborate show off. That works for the kind of game this is and, as I said above, feeds into very competently executed flow of action and pacing. Nothing feels like it's wasting your time. As far as audio goes I'd say it's on the same level. Already mentioned VA is pretty damn good and soundtrack itself is downright impressive albeit scarce. Village theme hit all the right notes for me as far as nostalgia goes. All the hits and bumps are gloriously exaggerated and now I know the MISS MISS MISS cue all too well.
Castlevania (Season 2)
Almost two years ago I reviewed the first season of Castlevania and wondered how its sequel would turn out considering the first one, which consisted of mere four episodes, was basically just a setup to get our party together so they embark on a quest to hunt down Dracula proper. Time has come... well, time actually came last year yet here I am today having seen all eight episodes of the second season attempting to put it into words.
Where to begin? In hindsight it turns out having that tight-packed original was better in every way compared to what we got in this offering. I'll get into actual problems as I carry on, but the most obvious one for me is there's basically just as little if not less story here than we got earlier except it's now dragged out across twice as many episodes with unhealthy dose of filler thrown in for good measure. Show also fell into “bigger and more = better” trap in the attempt to escalate story stakes when the groundwork was already laid down and that should have been used instead.
Story buildup we saw up to this point gets resolved in the last two episodes. Until then it becomes painfully obvious writers watched too much Game of Thrones and thought vampire politics was what I wanted in my Castlevania animation. They were sorely mistaken. Now, vampires and politics can work, as Vampire the Masquerade can attest to, but in this case it results in just a whole lot of static shots where vampires stand in the grand hall and pretend to politic/strategize while old Drac is tired of life and wants to end it all. When you consider half of most of the episodes are dedicated to vampire POV it drags the whole thing down. Flipside is there are two new human characters who are interesting and I genuinely wanted to see more of and show thankfully provided it with backstory flashbacks. Once in a while you cut loose with gratuitous action scenes that don't really provide much context to the story under than to, I don't know, justify the action tag? It's just all so unfocused and I don't think the director knows what pacing means as they were given too much time and not enough plot to fill it with. Even our intrepid trio of protagonists does little until the finale and I can only stand so much bickering between Alucard and Trevor with Sypha mediating between the two manchildren. All three of them are fundamentally the same characters we saw in the original so nothing's really changed there. They simply have to get new stuff and learn new tricks to actually get to fight the big D. But those last two episodes, man. That's what I wanted the show to be – action galore and finally tossing in some Castlevania music. Such a shame it comes so late and is resolved with assumed expectation from the viewer to be already invested in these characters. Except in this second season I can't even cheer for Dracula anymore because he's gone full nihilistic. And show then has the nerve to sequel bait not once, but TWICE... with season three already confirmed.
As you can probably tell I did not enjoy this. It simply comes across as a tremendous downgrade in almost every respect that has to do with pacing, writing and development. Sure, the visuals are still there and combat choreography was good, considering they seriously increased the time spent fighting so it occasionally dips into frame jank, but even the sound design is somehow just there. Vampires going all “diversity mode” simply so you can have an international cast to slay, who barely utter a word so they're just stereotypes, seems like a waste of time and effort, for example.
Y: The Last Man
Time for another graphic novel. Or comic, if you prefer. Y: The Last Man fits well within my spheres of interest aka not being your “cape comic” that seem to be all the rage these days and comes neatly collected. As a matter a fact there are multiple collected editions out there and I'd probably track down Absolute Edition because it's the entire story in just three books.
It's 2002 and the unthinkable has happened – all the males have died. Well, everyone except Yorrick Brown and his pet monkey Ampersand who makes it his favorite past time to throw excrement at Yorrick. Needless to say this turns the world upside down as society breaks down and begins to rebuild over the course of the story. What is the story, though? There's kind of a lot to take in because the story clearly runs on arcs, but what we start off with is Yorrick wants to get to Australia to locate his girlfriend Beth while the rest of the world, of which there are many parties including the Israeli military, female US president drafting the mysterious Culper Ring organization to protect the only surviving male, and lots of other crazy shit that eventually gets introduced. Story is not really Y's strong point if you ask me. Barring some asspulls and twists you can largely guess how this “world gone crazy with women” premise turns out for the only guy around and ultimately comic relies on introducing more outlandish elements to throw roadblocks in Yorrick's way as the cast expands. Ultimately it's the premise I found the most engaging when you have the types of New Amazons popping up, piracy taking a new meaning and not even the astronauts are forgotten. Not to mention asking if there's truly hope in such a setting?
With all that in mind it's the characters that really carry this one. Or will break it utterly depending on where your preferences lie. Mr. Brown himself is kinda that stereotypical early 2000's wisecracking smart guy using it as a facade to deal with his own inner turmoils and is largely likable. Where he got on my nerves is with constant referencing when it felt out of place or just to reinforce the notion he's a brat. Fortunately he's balanced by excellent agent 355, a no nonsense government agent who's role it happens to be to watch over Yorrick. She doesn't have an easy job and relationship is one of barely tolerating each other early on. Naturally, it goes places. There's probably about a dozen of other characters involved, particular standout being Dr. Mann who may or may not know what actually caused the extinction of the male population worldwide, but it's the dynamic duo that carries the story and how they develop.
So what's my last word on Y? Well, uneven would definitely qualify. As well as groan-inducing at times. Aside from the whole in your face feminism thing, which got on my nerves real fast but with Yorrick being the way he is you can almost see the women in this story may be onto something, it was author's incessant need to stop and deliver a paragraph worth of “as you know...” type of exposition. It's unnecessary and kills whatever pace you had. No, I don't need to be reminded who the Amazons were in the middle of a tense standoff, for example. This persists throughout the comic. It is a decent looking comic, I'll give it that. Definitely modern made and you can tell corners were cut with some backgrounds, but the cover art is gorgeous so that was a good way to get me hooked. On top of general artwork gradually getting better as more issues were released. I think one of the artists was actually from Croatia?
Another collection of shorties reviewed in under a day. Just like with my last Grab-bag all these games are free and, this time at least, available on Steam as precursors to upcoming games. I have not really found a solution for games lacking “proper” covers yet so I guess current format could work for those versus full “cover on the side, multiple screenshots” package. What do you think? I wish I managed to squeeze in at least one more review under the non-games section down below, but one will have to do.
You’ve probably seen these pop on Steam prior to me posting here. Eh.
It seems to have become a thing these days to offer what are essentially demos of yore in some form or another, and Unsung Story – Prologue is one of these offerings. What we have at hand is quite short, but I think it represents a decent so-called “vertical slice” of what the game should turn out to be. Baring some major development changes along the way, of course.
At first glance game looks like dime a dozen 2D platformer with someone who cares about what they're doing and operates within his means helming the art department so we have actual drawn art assets versus someone's misplaced notion of what 8bit and 16bit games from their childhood looked like. And it is all of that, but you'll also notice something that makes it stand out – characters appear quite small or maybe the camera is simply zoomed out more than I'm used to from these games. Maybe it'll factor into larger areas and bosses than caves and skeletons we see here? In any case, this is a platformer where combat appears to be second despite how much effort is put into systems backing it up when you take into account gear system at work. You can buy new equipment from the shops with loot you occasionally find from fallen foes or salvage from chests you come across, although at the moment this was limited to whether you wanted one-handed + shield or two-handed weapons in addition to ranged attack. Prologue culminates in a boss fight following a rather tense platforming section as level continues to collapse and demands you combine double jumping with dashing to get across where it turns out not everything is exactly operating under the premise which lead our hero to enter the cave in the first place. Plot thickens.
All in all, it was a good first taste and all the groundwork is already here if you ask me. Now it's just a question of whether Unsung Warriors proper will materialize considering their Kickstarter pitch failed.
Sometimes you get tidbits representing what a game may be in the future and sometimes you get what is couple of hours worth of content. Sin Slayers: The First Sin is definitely among the latter. Before I even get into talking about this... well, honest to god demo in everything but name, it's probably worth pointing out Sin Slayers will most likely resonate strongly with the Darkest Dungeon audience due to its reliance on challenge, difficulty and running the same content over and over.
So what is it? Basically a roguelike with 3v3 RPG style combat considering it is party-based and people take turns. If not for clear cut reference above one might even be tempted to call it JRPG combat, but I think the rest of the game themes itself rather nicely in a different direction. There's little story to speak of – your playable character help two people slay some demons and they all retreat to a nearby church where others have also taken refuge. Local priest also seems to have a plan regarding how to get rid of the corruption infesting the land... and conveniently splitting it off into domains themed after Deadly Sins. Cue content progression in traditional roguelike sense where each “sector” is randomly generated upon initiating each new session. This naturally lends itself to replayability, but one aspect I like is Sin Slayers' genuine difficulty early on because you don't really get natural increment in power through level ups. No, you need to craft better equipment with slowly acquired materials and recipes, unlock new tiers of skills by directly paying money, etc. Where crafting giveth, character management taketh, though. There is no handling your characters between sessions and they recover to full health. Real focus is on the exploration map and combat here with intricacies like enemies being vulnerable to specific types of damage, weighing PROs and CONs on which decisions to make with events and such.
This one is a game that will find its audience, and probably already has one, not to mention it is a pretty impressive showcase if it was intended to get you into the entire package. However. For the exact reason of being what it is game will also be avoided. I can already see grinding zones for materials and to do all specific quests will take a while, but stuff like characters having skills they can use outside of combat for level navigation, witty writing if that's your thing, etc it may still be worth at least checking out. Maybe you just like detailed sprite work.
To be perfectly honest with you Stoneshard: Prologue is essentially meant to last about 25-30 minutes. Fact it took me over two hours for just as many successful runs should clue you in on two possibilities: A) I really have lost my edge or B) gods of RNG were not looking favorably on me. Maybe it was a deadly combination of both?
Despite what I can see from Steam's store page for the main game itself, which promises much more and has you leading a caravan among other proper RPG things, Prologue I've played is a roguelike through and through inspired by some of the most stalwart genre classics. Which means turn-based combat and managing Verren as he struggles to escape from a prison cell he finds himself locked in by a mean looking vampire. As a matter of fact you'll be dusting quite a few vampires on your way up and let me tell you Stoneshard has no intention of making it easy. Mainly because enemy distribution and loot can make or break your thankfully short runs for the purposes of this limited experience. What really sold me on the game was the fact your inventory will be more loaded with things to handle your condition over some brand new gear. For example, standing near explosions can cause a concussion, blocking a particularly harsh blow could cause long-term arm damage or Verren can simply get depressed if things start going badly for you. There are solutions for these things such as bandages, food/drinks you need for survival aspects, ether inhaler to give yourself a boost with detriments in the long run, etc. It's a dynamic puzzle you have to balance and it makes the character actually feel alive on top of classical character building with stats and skills.
Provided Stoneshard can deliver this and more, I'm sold and game has its place on my wishlist. What I have played is an extremely tight roguelike that manages to evoke terrific atmosphere with relatively simplistic visuals and certainly got me hooked on its greater story with mere journal entries and some lines of dialog. Just... prepare to die.
The Long Tomorrow
There are many approaches one can take when writing a novel set during or after an apocalyptic event, and so we have on our hands this time. The Long Tomorrow might actually surprise you because it's not an action drive story, but that in no way diminishes its own take on the premise.
So many stories regarding the apocalypse decide to set themselves far off into the future to cut all ties except those they'd like to keep to the old world, but as the reader learns through the eyes of a fourteen year old Len Colter that's not exactly the case this time around. It has been scantly two generations since the world ended so there are old people still around who remember what the cities were like, for example. And it is a notable example because in this new world order one rule reigns supreme – cities can never return. Does that mean everyone's turned nomadic? Not really, they just returned to more rural life style and put hard caps on what passes for civilized hubs. Going beyond mere cities people also abhor much of the advanced technologies and swept in religious doctrine they consider them evil and remnants of what caused humanity to forsake God who then decided to burn them away for their sinful ways. Such is the world view we get through Len's eyes. View, you might say, is heavily biased considering it comes from New Mennonites who rose to become just one of many sects to keep the society going. This life will soon be cut for our boy protagonist as he and his friend Esau have ideas of their own and don't want to be kept ignorant for the rest of their lives when there has to be so much more out there. Well, if you dodge Ishmaelites who have become zealous savages and a vile place called Bartorstown where technology may have endured to plague the world.
From my setting summary I think you can kinda put two and two together and make an educated guess where this story is going, but it's a good thing the journey itself is why you're here. Seeing these two boys enact their plan and witness the world, with the reader along for the ride, beyond their village is the real draw. Nothing's perfect in this new world yet there are familiar problems. Kinda like with zombie stories you realize despite all external circumstances we are our own worst enemy in most situations, and no matter which form it took it seems like the apocalypse hasn't really changed that. Journey I mentioned above is also an internal one where Len's worldviews are tested and he has to decide what to believe in. Even whether his father is in the right and this way of living they practice is the correct one when they weight against the days of yesteryear. Not to mention new societies that have risen and struggle balancing the old laws with the inevitable increase in population and [old] issues that will bring back that cannot be solved by faith alone.
I enjoyed The Long Tomorrow a great deal and would recommend it. There are some things that didn't work for me, especially the resolution and some buildup towards the ending when Len suddenly makes certain calls, but those do not undermine a great story of self-exploration we have here.
Now this is more like it and what I had in mind when I scaled back updated to one per game. Also to break the monotony I've brought back my takes on other media which will no longer be reviews proper and rather more like impressions or summaries. Makes it easier that way, although I doubt anyone will notice with my walls of text. Have fun reading and fire back any feedback you have.
If you’re reading the ANTHOLOGY section please comment on whether it was uncomfortable to read with cover art on the right side. I found it distracting myself.
Product of Kickstarter funding and adaptation of an existing series of books, The Dwarves has been sitting on my HDD for a while now and I'm happy to confirm that it has indeed been finished. Was it worth? Well, first I'd like to say I am unfamiliar with the series of novels, but game is based solely on the first one and ends on satisfactory note with some minor bait that will most likely never materialize in a sequel. For what it's worth it sure got me interested in the novels as of today.
Girdlegard is something we must tackle first seeing as it is the setting of the game. And oh boy, is it overwhelming unless you're familiar with the property. Not that I mind “sink or swim” approach where you have to puzzle things out for yourself, but where The Dwarves stumbles is in sheer quantity of information thrown at you in such a short time. To simplify – Girdlegard is a region primarily populated by human kingdoms, but also home to various Dwarf clans in the mountains edging the region. Five dwarven kingdoms, to be specific. Game refers to them as Firstlings, Secondlings, Thirdlings, Fourthlings and Fiftlings respectively. This is important because you can easily mix it up until you're about a third into the game, reach one of these kingdoms and start to piece things together. There are also magical fields in Girdlegard where Magi make their bases. You can imagine the issues from all of this amalgamating and interacting, but there's also added tension because there are other factions at work – Elves, Orcs and Alfar... who are kinda like evil Elves. The Perished Land is also a thing and it's an evil spirit/region, but also something that seemingly has a will of its own and seeks to infiltrate Girdlegard while the Magi are holding constant vigil to keep it outside.
With that out of the way our story proper concerns Tungdil Goldhand, a dwarf youth who oddly enough does not live with his kin but rather in one of Girdlegard's enchanted realms where a Mage Lot-Ionan rules. Tungdil was orphaned you see and saved by said mage who kept him to work as a smith where he has now built his life. Sadly, things take a grave turn when Tungdil is sent by his master to deliver an important package to a meeting of Magi deciding how to protect the land. Along the way he comes across two dwarves who manage to save his life, stakes get raised as dangerous Alfar massacres a village and suddenly our dwarven lad is in a fight to save his life while his two new companions seem desperate to take him to Secondling's fortress for some unknown reason. Plot thickens.
So yeah, that's the gist of it. While this is technically an RPG, and what isn't these days, I wouldn't really focus on story in The Dwarves. It's there and typical fantasy fare is what you'll get, but what game focuses on is gameplay.
Best way to explain the combat system at hand would be to imagine an action RPG except you can also pause to input commands from instructing characters to move to a specific point or use abilities. Sadly, it's a single step kind of input so you cannot queue actions aka you cannot order “move here and THEN use ability X” which tends to make combat hectic because it is, essentially, a dynamic puzzle board that never stands still. Overhead view with freedom to rotate the camera and limited zoom is maintained, and there are times when you don't want to keep it zoomed out to the max. Mastering the combat system definitely took me a while, though. Tutorial overwhelms you without necessarily breaking down the very basics so you think simply standing still and bashing will work when in reality getting surrounded is a quick way to die.
Reading the above you may think fighting is what you'll be doing for most of the game, but that would be wrong. Mostly. Traveling across the world map is really what will take a big chunk of your time and let me tell you it's not all peachy there. World is divided into nodes you move to and from with each transition taking a day's worth of time. You also have a food supply to keep an eye on. Yes, it's one of those games. Twist here is you will not starve if you run out of food, but it will cripple your characters' ability to heal injuries sustained in battles while traveling. This becomes less of a problem later on when you expand your roster, but that raises a separate conundrum I'll get into later. Once the shine wears off you'll realize there are too many nodes in the world that serve no purpose other than to waste your food and time. Former can at least be replenished through events or straight up buying it at outposts for gold which you'll honestly be swimming in anyway. Little one-off events you come across are the main attraction and most have alternate outcomes. For example, how you handle a mercenary situation could result in fighting half the town or getting their support. I liked this element of the game and wish it was condensed a bit more. Then again, you can also ignore everything and just go for the main story question mark.
Seemingly familiar real-time with pause combat definitely takes a while to get used to its flow because it's so reliant on using abilities over everything else.
When you get into fighting is when entirely separate set of issues rears its ugly head. For starters there's how the game handles physics and idea of “force” behind attacks. When you select which attack to initiate it usually has a cone or arrow of direction where it'll fire off to or what area it will affect. Thing is, this also affects allies and you can cause massive damage or displace them resulting in stuns. You can hand wave this early on when only couple of characters have AoE clearing attacks, but as they get more prevalent it becomes a serious issue requiring careful positioning and party composition. Problem – this is a highly melee-centric game and not everyone is built like a dwarven ironbreaker your main cast is. Secondly, there's also pathfinding which tends to lose its shit the moment you're not in open fields and calling characters to your position can have comically disastrous results. Nothing like being close to finishing a level only to send your ally tumbling down a cliff because you accidentally caught him with a sweeping attack.
Which feeds into another matter and that's highly imbalanced characters. You'd have to be crazy to take some of them into combat with you... except you end up doing precisely that with the game forcing them on you in couple of situations. This could be entirely on me and maybe it changes if you play on hard difficulty, but trying to charm enemies to fight for you is nonsensical when you could just focus on knocking them down, executing them and gain those sweet sweet APs you need to activate abilities. The more varied party you bring to fights the more incessant micromanaging is required on your end to keep everyone alive. This is generally not a problem because there are couple of situations where you really don't want to fight through hordes of orcs, who make up 90% of game's enemies, and rather rush to green exit marker, but towards the finale game likes to surprise you with three back-to-back fights without chance to recover health unless you spend/have potions so you'll be forced to rotate your party. That was probably the worst part of the game for me because it felt like I was dealt a bad hand and somehow had to make it work regardless.
Taking into account The Dwarves' Kickstarter origin you may think compromised visuals or cut corners elsewhere, but if I'm being perfectly honestly only problems I'd call out in production department would probably be related to Unity engine itself. Loading screens are way too frequent and ended up breaking already questionable flow of the game which may have been the result of trying to stay faithful to the book and balancing it out with the development process. Game is definitely in somewhat a of a lull until the second half and then punches full on into overdrive for the final act. It also takes a while to move past green meadows and burning villages until locales diversify a bit, but when it does it's dwarven architecture aplenty until the end.
Prophet + Prophet: Earth War
It's been ages since I last tackled a comic or graphic novel, whichever you prefer, so I figured it was time once more and with 700 or so pages I figured Prophet would make for triumphant return. One thing worth noting is you don't need to know anything about the '90s iteration of the comic because this 2012 one is a reboot for all intents and purposes, albeit one that's aware of the original and later on pays more than just homage from what I've pieced together.
John Prophet wakes as his drill-pod digs its way out of the ground. Barely surviving after getting attacked by an alien life form and injecting stimulants to rouse his body after untold years of dormancy he realizes this is no longer Earth he remembers. Time frame is not given and nor is it relevant – Prophet has a mission to accomplish, clearly embedded into his mind with psychic conditioning and extreme training. He is a one-man army equipped with only the bare essentials old Earth Empire left him in case he ever needs to rebuild it. Knowing what he has to do to reactivate the G.O.D. satellite he embarks on his journey to prepare and perform his duty.
All that? That's just part of the first volume and one of multiple Prophets we follow over the course of the run. Or should I say, over the course of these first two volumes because Prophet is only partially an anthology of individuals all embarking on missions of great importance until its plot crystallizes into a tighter narrative with a more permanent cast of characters yet even then it's not like authors (because each story has a creator so you get different takes on similar core themes) completely abandon the notion of feeding you background tidbits so later stories won't feel the need to explain all over again. If you were to ask me I'd probably say I regretted that shift in focus and preferred the standalone stories themselves, but I would also lie if I didn't say it was awesome the way most of them are brought back in some capacity. What REALLY drew me in was the setting, though. It is absolutely amazing in that “show, don't tell” approach that goes so hand-in-hand with an alien setting like this one. Closest approximation would be one of techno barbarian future existing in the shadows of once powerful empire still lingering but there are other players in this rich and layered history Prophet presents. Not to say the empire itself are really the good guys when you consider they basically have no limits to what they'll do with genetic tempering, psychic control, slavery, etc. I liked the setting and its mystery so much that I was kinda disappointed when they went and presented two in-file sections in a later volume to shed some light on it.
Considering the medium it's only expected I talk about the art, framing and such things. Fortunately, all I can say is they're outstanding all-around. There are multiple artists at work here so you cane expect variety, but nothing too drastic that will stand out. It also means you'll see plenty ranging from survival on an alien space station lead by a mental projection with clones around you who failed to epic space battles between bred warships and ancient rock titans, for example. This one's a winner, guys.
The Airs of Earth
Problem with anthologies in general is I have yet to find a way to comprehensibly cover them in review-style format considering there's [usually] no uniformity to them and works tend to vary quite a bit. In this particular case with Brian Aldiss' The Airs of Earth it is easier because they're all penned by the very same author, but that does not negate the uneven nature of the collection as a whole. There were definitive high and low points among the eight stories featured so I will not attempt to break down each and every one of them. What I will commit to, however, is commenting on those that stuck with me the most for whatever reason.
Going in reading order first one what stood out for me was, well, the first one - A Kind of Artistry. On surface it is a story about one Derek Ende who comes off as almost your typical pulp era space opera protagonist who can do no wrong and is extremely competent, but that's honestly just a facade for the story where he undertakes a mission to “make liaison” with an alien on behalf of the government. Real theme is the protagonist's underlying relationship with his mistress and her possessive/not really/kinda attitude towards him as well as inherent desire to be free yet wanting to be bound. It's hard to put into words without spoiling, so let's just say she's not merely his mistress and that complicates things. Next one would definitely be O Moon of My Delight! from which the cover I've posted comes from and is honestly kinda simple when you get to it considering it mainly deals with a tech engineer posted to a Tandy Two where Flange system exists aka method to slow down ships coming out of FTL. Explaining reasons and logic behind I won't go into, because that's precisely what our lead does to get the point across to a very sharp little girl, as they're all departing and taking the next ship off-world. It involves romance, sheep herders with malfunctioning robot dogs, and a tragedy waiting to happen no matter where in universe you may be. Penultimate story I would give attention to would probably be The Game of God with its straightforward twist if that makes any sense. Opening to a god accepting two sacrificial bowls full of freshly extracted guts and hating his followers to it we switch perspective to a team of scientists landing on planet Kakakakaxo where they're seeing a legendary figure Dangerfield who landed there 19 years ago and survived, being the only human to have done so. What's the story behind the primitive reptilian natives and their two slave races? That and more if you read in what is probably the most typical story in the collection, in my opinion. I would end summary with, fittingly enough, final story - Old Hundredth. Problem is I have no idea how to go about it. It is a far future story where humanity seems to have disappeared and Venus now orbits our planet. What replaced humanity are the Impures, or should I say intelligent creatures apparently engineered by old humanity on Venus at some point. Dandi is one of those as our protagonist, a mega sloth of sort, and she wanders the planet while maintaining a mental link with her Mentor. Did I mention Mentor is a intelligent dolphin in an underground tank? Her trade/art is exploring the musical resonance psyche leaves on death. And then something happens to her that changes things, but it's getting into the idea of musicolumns where story spends the most time on alongside occasional hints about history now gone which may be fitting considering this is the most out there story of the bunch.
I was planning to also break down my least favorite stories, but this has already dragged out long enough for what was supposed to be short so I'll skip that. Let's just say to enjoy half of the books is a good deal with an anthology and I didn't actively dislike any stories. Some were very obvious, like the military or smiling drug one, but for the most part I enjoyed The Airs of Earth. Your mileage may obviously vary.
Love, Death & Robots
To finish off this little trifecta I have going on here let's dabble into moving pictures. Love, Death & Robots was a Netflix initiative to fund a story anthology where various studios would get to display a short of their own using whatever animation technique they felt like employing. It turns out almost all of them really like CG versus traditional animation, but I'm not complaining with what's on display. Worth pointing out – like it says on the cover it is a NSFW anthology so expect nudity here and there. They aim to please both camps.
Out of eighteen shorts present and accounted for there's quite a few I enjoyed so I don't think I'll go into extensive breakdowns, merely brief opinions here and there.
Three Robots and When The Yogurt Took Over stood out for their humorous take on what passes for pretty grim scenarios when you stop and think about it. Former could've done without the cat part, though. Standing in the off corner we have Beyond the Aquila Rift, Good Hunting, Shape-Shfters and The Secret War as more serious heavy hitters of the package in both their presentations and themes. First one deviated from the book it was based on somewhat, but stunning CG display was something to behold and had me impressed throughout. The Secret War almost fes like someone animated Metro games and is the most self-contained movie of the the entire anthology in a sense it has clear beginning-middle-end structure you'd expect. Couple of shorts that didn't wow me like the above, but were still absolutely worth watching would be Sucker of Souls and Zima Blue which were both honestly on the basic side of things and one even lacked a proper ending, but not underwhelming enough to write off. I've seen people rave about Zima Blue online and I can't say I really get why.
Sadly, there were also a handful of episodes I could not stand. Alternate Histories is just someone asking “what if Hitler died and we made six scenarios out of it?” that should've honestly been left without an answer. Idea is solid, but execution is easily the worst out of everything on the offering. Then there's also Blindspot which landed with a very dull thud and I honestly forget it even existed. Needed some more thought put into premise and script, not to mention the ending invalidates everything I just sat through so it can evacuate through the nearest window. Lastly there's also Ice Age. I have no idea why this was included other than to get some celebrities aboard, I guess. Not bad, but just flat and already seen.
So what did I make of Love, Death & Robots in the end? It's a tough sell and I'm almost hesitant to recommend it as such, but you can never tell with people. You may end up liking specifically what I couldn't stand. For example, there were shorts like The Witness that were visually breathtaking but otherwise felt like filler with some supposedly deep ideas going on. If you do a head count you'll see there's couple of missing episodes I didn't talk about and that's simply due to lack of impression or bad/good balancing out for a mediocre sum.
So much about going with individual game updates in hopes of leading up to faster updates, huh? I've fallen into a trap of tackling too many games at once and making little progress in all of them as a result. I also got around to playing some of the short and free projects that exist out there, like I already did once way back when, albeit at this point it risks appearing as filler content considering the update drought. Keeping it simpler this time. As usual, I've linked to where you can get more info about and download these games from by clicking on their banners.
Of the three games included I think Santa Monica by Night is probably the closest to a full-fledged game you can get and by that I mean it's a point & click adventure that has a beginning, middle and end. Needless to say, it does fall on the extremely short side of things and it took me about 20 minutes to play through, but the foundation is there. Playing the game coincided with the fact Bloodlines 2 got announced not to long ago to much hype and anticipation.
Getting down to it the game does have an interesting premise – it takes place between the original Bloodlines game and the upcoming sequel. You also play as someone who really liked the game when he played it years back and was fascinated by what he saw... only to get turned into vampire himself at some point later on. Your sire sends you to Santa Monica on a mission to find out more about another vampire and extradite him safely out of there if possible only for things to quickly complicate once you hit the ground and learn more. What I found the most appealing is this is the first foray into the new 5th Edition of the Masquerade ruleset with the accompanying lore changes. Hell, this ties intrinsically into who your character is and there's a brief snippet into the Second Inquisition and their impact on the vampire society. It goes without saying you'll also see some favorite characters making a cameo.
You would be amazed how many games there are on itch.io that have Red in the title, but make no mistake because this Red is an expanded take on the Little Red Riding Hood tale if Little Red decided to defeat the big bad wolf by combining clues.
Not to be a downer or anything, but I think this just might not be a game for me. It's not like I need story in all my games yet this game will deliver what it has in the form of an interesting cutscene where you see the big bad wolf chomping on grandma as you run away from the house with a mystery note that starts you down the path of adventure. Alongside collecting mystical stones, mushrooms, etc to progress you will also have to navigate the forest itself which is pretty damn immersive now that I think about it. Visuals are what they are, but I think setting lighting plays a major role in setting the mood – from ominous dark woods navigable by following fireflies to thorny patches. Did I forget to mention that werewolf will occasionally be on the prowl to get you? Well, now I have. Red is a game about exploration and collecting things so you can progress further through claustrophobic environments with the occasional puzzle to break it up.
From what I've gathered 7 Days in the Fire Mountain was made in under a month during the studio's “team building” exercise or whatever you call it. For what it is, it's pretty alright, but I think there also exist clear asset limitations because of such short development period that were smartly compensated for by choosing the correct setting and type of game, but does it succeed?
To put it plainly, no. At least not for me. What we have on our hands is an exploration game with survival elements taking place in a mountainous forest area. Two problems rear their ugly heads: survival and forest. There is, take a guess how many, set number of days to explore around and your health ticks down with time so you have to find means to increase it which becomes a chore and yes, you can GAME OVER if you hit zero. On the other hand the setting itself is fine. I mean, I have nothing against temperate forests personally. Problem is there's only so many different sprites and tileset variety and you'll see pretty much all of them in the first few screens so get used to disorientation which is a problem when you're timed on screen transitions. Some things also appear at different times of day so that's something to factor in.
I would also point out there's a story here about finding yourself and what happened. It's intriguing at surface level so I won't spoil it, but it sometimes comes off as pretentious in that indie way when an indie studio misunderstands what “less is more” means. That could just be me, though.
Well, in endless pursuit of streamlining my post format and process I've taken truly taken after the AAA publishers and got right down to axing stuff. Seeing as my updates take forever, and I often find myself sitting on reviews before I have them all so I can put them together into one neat package, I've now decided to take the sensible route and release them as I finish games. Now, I'm not sure if I'll stick to just GAME reviews for individual updates, but let's see how it works out for couple of these. Also did some work on the banner template which should be usable in general.
Have fun and enjoy the read. As usual with Steam reviews you can also find it on my Steam page. ◕‿◕
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto 4 s probably one of those games I should've reviewed years ago when I first played it, but I also imagine it would've been received much worse considering the state of the PC version. While I'm on the subject it's only fair to emphasize I modded the game with GTA4 Reborn mod which largely handles all the [now] leftover GfWL/XBox Live issues, bug fixes and restored some content like all the songs Rockstar in their expiring licenses wisdom saw fit to remove. Real question is how much can you fix a game that has such deep core issues related to its platform and does it stand the test of time after a decade of open world progress? Well... let's find out, cousin.
Following my usual format story is up first, but honestly if you have any GTA experience you can kinda tell where it's going – start from rags and become a very rich person or disappear anonymously.
This fourth installment does its own thing with a certain twist ending, but that's clearly spoiler territory so we won't go there. In any case, we assume the role of Niko Belic escaping his history concerning Yugoslav Wars shenanigans and who has some pretty bitter memories on the matter as he finds his way to Liberty City where his famed cousin Roman is living the high life. Except it all ends up being fanciful tales considering he barely owns a taxi service and has to deal with pushy Russian mobsters. Well, NB being the protagonist that he is, things certainly take a turn following his arrival and it's not long before he gets to pursue a certain obsession that has essentially ruined his life – track down the person who betrayed him back during the war and got his other friends killed in the process of selling them all out. This becomes the proagonist's primary motivation when you're not being an errand boy for everyone under the sun with their greed and need.
Which is already where my problems start to rear their ugly head. Story in GTA4 isn't really that good and never goes beyond the basic level it starts out. That department is carried more by whether you care about the main cast or not... which could be said about all the Grand Theft Autos from 3 onward, though. And I do care about Niko. Roman less so, but they make for a great dynamic duo until the game kinda forgets about them after the first third or so after which you get mired neck deep in the affairs of organized crime simply because you want to get paid. I'll touch on this more when I get to discussing actual systems and gameplay. Let's just say you're not really working for all that useful payout, so real currency you're looking for are interesting character stories. GTA4 thankfully delivers on those in spades even if they end up being little more than criminal/national stereotypes at their core. From your friendly Rastafari masquerading as a mobile weapon shop to myriad of Italian/Russian/Irish gangsters and other small time pushers. They all have missions that desperately require someone to solve them and you happen to be available. I would like to point out there are story choices on multiple occasions, but only the very last one truly matters in a sense it determines the ending. Meaning it's not some extensive investment to see both of them unfold.
I feel like any city GTA game is set in almost acts as if it were a character in its own right so Liberty City deserves some attention. Definitely not one of my favorites. It goes without saying the city is based on New York City, albeit representing four out of five boroughs, but I'm not a fan of it being so heavily urbanized and split onto islands. Meaning you're always crossing bridges and I can only assume it may have something to do with hiding loading times because it ended up annoying me and just taking taxis to distant locations was far easier than driving there myself. That's a problem in a game where hijacking cars and driving are both kind of a big deal.
While I'm on the subject I might as well transition into gameplay itself.
Before anything else is said there's a HUGE elephant in the room that has to be addressed – driving physics. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how mad they drove me and were going to play a major role in rating GTA4 negatively as I set out to play the game even back in the day. Until they just stopped annoying me one day as I realized it simply took time to, as kids say these day, “get good” at driving. Not all cars were manufactured equal and you really end up looking for those better, premium cars that handle better overall. Where game makes a misstep is missing any form of car customization past getting a new paint job. I feel like at least some of the inherent problems with these driving physics, where most cars handle like tanks trying to ice skate, could have been alleviated with customization where you get to tweak things like breaks, suspension, etc. Alas such system is absent from the game and it takes a while until good cars become easily available. Thankfully, you can at least store them in front of your apartment(s). It is worth noting there are also bikes, helicopters and boats in the game with airplanes being suspiciously absent. Less said about helicopter controls the better. I just don't get what is it with Rockstar and helicopter controls, but there was little fun to be found in matching altitude while dodging rockets and trying to hit my target with the machine gun simultaneously.
I killed this guy only to forget to check whether his replacement is equally as bitchy or he simply comes back to life. Taxis were unavailable for a while, though.
You could make a valid argument out of which is deadlier – that plaid shirt or sticky cover system GTA4 employs.
Second-most thing you'll be doing is shooting, naturally. This entry sees the first modern implementation of a sticky system for the series and naturally there were some bumps left to iron out in the future. After pressing the cover button Niko will stick to the nearest viable cover from which you can then shoot wildly or take aim for more accurate shots. Standard fare for modern TPS so far. My problem with the system was this weird [lack of] accuracy if you take your time to aim shots because you kinda have to take into account Niko has to make a move to “step out” of the cover to actually fire which throws off your aim. It's something you learn to compensate for, but bullets basically won't be landing precisely where you've aimed them at. Speaking of movement this ties into the way protagonist moves about as GTA4 embraces that slow, almost weight-based movement some don't like. I didn't mind it, but it certainly takes a while to get used to coming from snappy arcade approach of older 3D titles in the series. One thing I do not like is walking being the game's default movement speed and having to constantly keep a button pressed to run or, god help us, mash the button to sprint. Analog sticks were in use so why couldn't have that range of motion been used instead? At least basic running. It comes off as one of many pet peeves it would probably take Rockstar a game or two to figure out fully.
Earlier I spoke about how money isn't really your reward for doing things in the game. Except it is, but you have nothing to spend it on. Game loves to shower you in cash, and even netting you real nice lump of change after the final mission, but unlike previous games where you could buy real estate to serve as a noticeable money sink, once you buy the clothes you want there's nothing to invest any of it here. This is not helped by the fact game gives you apartments, where you sleep to advance time/save and change clothes, for free as the story progresses. I kept saving my money wondering when I'd be able to spend it all only to be disappointed. This problem kinda extends past financial matters into the game as a whole – I feel like GTA4 ended up being too boring, too mundane in its pursuit to be serious. I mean, unless you really like hunting those 200 pigeons and have given up on life. Even customary taxi and police missions, along with Brucie getting you into the car stealing business, feel like they barely make a difference in the overall content drought unless story was what you signed up for in the first place.
So you've been reading up to this point and probably thinking “Whoa, that's a lot of negatives!”. You're right. Problem is that positives in GTA4 are actually under the hood or simply far too outweighed by the negatives to make a difference.
Euphoria system, for example, is one of those sadly forgotten gems that combined physics, adaptable animations and AI to create true semblance of a living world, eschewing pre-determined animations and overt recycling thereof. It also permeates the entirety of the GTA4 experience and is mind blowing once you actually realize how it's working. Shove button is in the game for a reason. I wish it was used for more tangible things than that seeing as it makes for a very immersive addition that never goes past that, though.
I'll finish this with a quick summary of the PC port. In short? Pretty low on the totem pole of ports out there. I'm grateful for not having to play the game in the state it was released in, but even modded and with the benefit of a modern PC it still has issues like reliably unreliable framerate that varies all over the place, even more awkward vehicle controls with M&K, etc. Most of the problems lie on the technical side of things and I have found solutions but some, like uncapping the framerate to get around jerky performance, leads to further comedic situations like camera zooming in extensively during cutscenes. Its a mess all-around and I would not recommend playing the vanilla version if you ever intended to play GTA4 on PC.
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
~ Anne Bradstreet
On the short side this one, but I got some reviews this time around so it feels legit. No Quizzical seeing as I don't want to spam it on the regular and I put off some non-video games stuff I didn't feel was quite ready for a review or first look. Maybe in the future? We'll see. Oh, I also get to cheap out with the cover art because INTERNET. Have fun reading.
Also, you can now subscribe to people on BLAEO so you never miss their updates. I know I made good use of it.
Chronicles & Ventures
Considering the merger of what were previously two categories into one, the single most important change this time around is BLUE now signifies PC reviews while GREEN has been assigned to game reviews from other platforms. Be they from consoles, mobile, etc. Also made some changes to Steam covers by actually using, but availability of such beyond bigger titles remains to be seen. I guess it's ironic I'm committing to this in the final update of the year so I'll have to give it some time to stretch legs in and see how it pans out, though. As usual my tl;dr summaries are at the bottom if you don't feel like reading the good old wall of text.
If you can't find Call of Chtulhu anymore on my account that's because the game was revoked during the whole Humble Bundle pricing shenanigans fallout. I was never more thankful for Steam's offline mode. Humble Bundle gets a big demerit, though. Honor your price mistakes.
Call of Cthulhu
I have no idea what the hangup in question was, but Call of Cthulhu is one of those games where I took a break between finishing it and penning the review. Before I get into reviewing proper I'd like to say I really liked the way it used Lovecraft's writing as a whole and goes beyond widespread stuff you are likely to be familiar with if you know the author by reputation alone. I just wanted to point out upfront there's plenty of little stuff Lovecraft aficionados will notice even if it is in distilled form for the most part.
So what do we have on our hands? Is it another Dark Corners of the Earth? Surprisingly enough that comparison strikes closer to home than you'd expect in some aspects, but we'll get around to it.
We step into the shoes of Edward Pierce, a war veteran turned private detective during the 1920s and one who may have drinking problems. Or not, depending on how you play it throughout the game. Other pressing matter is his PI license might get revoked if he doesn't get off his ass and actually starts taking cases. This just happens to coincide with Hawkins senior coming with an offer – solve his daughter's death on an island called Darkwater not too far away from Boston and small enough to be remain quite isolated. Being pressed into it more by an earlier call about the license Pierce accepts and he's off to adventure. All of this really the first ten minutes or so summarized, though. As you can imagine things take a turn and matter escalates into considerably more than “Was my daughter's death a case of foul play?” it initially appears to be. Let's just say that Darkwater Island for sure lives up to its name and I'm not talking about waters running red from the now dead whaling industry which put the screws on the locals as they conveniently found an alternative. Really, if you manage to not see it from a mile away it's a fairly entertaining story if not engaging.
Characters themselves were more of a mixed bag for me, though. If I had to put a phrase to it I'd probably say very few stuck with me. This was not helped by the fact the more interesting character was or had a cool premise the less we see of them. For example, Cat. She comes off as a highly competent gang boss who can potentially give Edward a whooping, but is absent for 80% of the game and when we eventually get back to her she's used to introduce a mechanic I couldn't care less for. Someone like that at least got a resolution, but even characters who are genuinely sympathetic or who's goals align with the protagonist's tend to float in and out of the story leading to a very disjointed flow. I think the problem is the same one that applies to the story above – it feels as if like large swathes of the narrative were cut or extremely simplified to get the basic gist of the plot across. Considering the kind of property we're working with here, and scale of things as story advances, you can imagine most of these characters do not have a happy ending. Or possibly even worse it may feel as if the game had forgotten about their existence past a certain point.
Kicker of the review is that the above, as conflicted as my feelings were about narrative elements at times, would arguably have to be the highlight. It's an immersive game if you soak it all in and marvel at the green rot that comes through its every pore. Games don't live on story alone, though. “Walking simulator” is a derogatory descriptor many apply, but is that truly the case for Call of Chtulhu? Gameplay and things thereof to follow...
Considering you actually get to, you know, do things beyond just walking and inspecting items to no impact or significance you'll be glad to hear that Call of Cthulhu is, in fact, not a walking simulator. Regardless, game is still rooted in shallow adventure mold where gameplay is stripped down to basics while puzzles themselves are not at all engaging. That's what we popularly like to call “casting a wide net” aka hoping you'll catch multiple audiences at the same time with just enough basics. If not to keep them throughout at least past that initial hour or so. You should also keep in mind this is a first-person only game so if some swaying and dramatic setpieces shaking the camera have detrimental effects this might be a tough sell.
I like to imagine Edward is mocking her for playing on easy mode in Cthulhu.
You'd be surprised to find out which skill is least used. Or not if you're familiar with Call of Cthulhu RPG proper.
Call of Chtulhu has the added benefit of RPG elements on top of it.. which is something that has become ubiquitous in modern gaming in a way it no longer raises eyebrows in curiosity. In game terms this translates to Pierce having couple of skills which you can raise with points you get as game advances. Not a leveling up system per se, but still one in all but name. Skills are separate matter unto themselves. At times there are hard checks (can't really expect to overcome a groundskeeper without decent Strength, for example) and unlockable dialog options depending on how high your skills are, but there are two skills that cannot be raised normally past character creation and in order to advance them you have to track down fitting items – Occultism and Medicine. Throughout the game you'll have some HAX opportunities to raise your Occultism at the expense of sanity, but even having located a truckload of medical books I was surprised to not have increased my Medicine significantly. I saved the worst/best of the bunch for last though, and that would Spot Hidden skill. Why the conflicted impression? On one hand you have a game that actually makes use of what's typically a filler skill everyone avoids, but on the other it's also a skill that triggers on percentage chance. Now, all skills operate like that but failing to pick a lock or convince someone you are on their side is different from items plain NOT SPAWNING depending on your Spot Hidden ranking. Even early on this can lead to awkward situations where, for example, to open a sewer grate and create an alternate passage to a warehouse you need three pieces of equipment to fix the crane. Two you can find normally, but the last one spawns if your said skill is high enough. Provided it isn't you're left wondering where you went wrong or is it yet another case of game bugging out. Add inability to save manually into the mix with percentage-based successes and you have a recipe for frustration provided you're not game for some RNG.
Dialog itself is one of the systems I'll praise because it does have options that depend not only on your skills, but also on clues and information you've gathered as Edward did by locating snippets here and there or by reconstructing scenes. Why he can do this? Well, you could argue it's because of story reasons but when you see another unrelated character pull it off it loses all the mystery. It's basically Sherlock mode where you examine clues and Pierce narrates. Surprisingly I have a feeling this was done more for player's gratification and understanding in some cases because the game doesn't really bring it up when it really should. If you're used to RPG dialog where choices and consequences are actually worth their salt that's not really the case with Call of Cthulhu. Dialog and entire presentation is really geared towards pushing you down a set path with couple of forks that come into play later down the road for binary results. You won't lock yourself out of content by pursuing non-optimal choices because the game is already slim as it is so no worries there is what I'm trying to say. You will still benefit from maxing two skills you can probably already figure out.
Those among you who may have played the game for yourself may be wondering right now “No way, is he not going to talk about it?” and you can put your fears to rest. It's time for stealth talk. Video games devs? This has not stop. I thought we were past forced stealth sections years ago but that's not really the cause. No, to be perfectly honest I think it's worse – stealth, such as it is, is actually a big part of the game. Keep in mind when I say “stealth” I really also mean “crawling through a pitch black asylum while pursued by a monster and your lamp oil reserves are dwindling down” kind of stuff on top, you know, regular crawling around the asylum and avoiding guards. Stealth is just too basic and you have no tools beyond crouch and pitiful lean function. It will happen multiple times and several people I talked with have bailed on the game at those specific points.
You have been warned.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Go bask in its emerald madness.
NARUTO: Ultimate Ninja STORM
Let's get some prep-work out of the way first before I delve into reviewing – over the course of this summer I sat through Naruto Kai and caught up so I would be informed about the material I previously knew nothing about beyond “ninja in orange suit” thing. Well, considering the way game dishes out story I'd say that was a pretty prudent decision in hindsight. This comes at odds with my overall ignorance regarding fighting games considering my last foray into the genre was... Tekken 3, I think? Turns out neither of these are really much of a handicap with Ultimate Ninja Storm.
Let's dig in, bakayaro konoyaro.
And now I realize I have to explain Naruto to people. Well, basically it's a society where you have countries but real deciding factor are their Hidden Villages aka villages where ninjas train. All of that is grand scheme background stuff that doesn't really matter for this game past the fact ninja from other villages gather at Hidden Leaf for a sort of student promotion tournament-style event at one point and shenanigans start from there. Before we get to that point we follow the story of Naruto Uzumaki, wannabe badass ninja and future Hokage aka leader of the village who has to persevere through tough life of being an orphan from toddler days and largely ostracized by other villagers because of a dark secret he's not privy to yet – Nine-Tailed Fox beast that destroyed the village when he was young is actually sealed inside of him. Add to that the fact Naruto is a pretty bad ninja and he has a tough life ahead of him. That is, until certain things are put into motion. If you've seen your fair share of anime you can kinda guess where these things go on from here with forging friendships, enduring rivals, secret villains working in the background, ever increasing cast of characters that will be tossed aside eventually, upping the scales of combat, etc.
While we're still on the subject of story I think that's one big aspect Naruto: Ultimate Ninja STORM actually has a problem with – you get really the barest of barebone cliff notes possible. I have no idea how someone is supposed to get anything past the general gist of things from this unless you already have some experience with Naruto. Which is weird because game also clearly shows inclinations towards making original content in the form of side missions with their own snippets of story and character development. I think the problem is more along the lines of coherency and budget allocation than lack of will on developers' end, though. There are also examples where pre and post mission flavor text will tell you the opposite of what happens during the mission itself aka “character X got defeated regardless” because that's what happened in the story... while you just played through the fight as character X and won. That's something I could've used less of. In case you're looking to find out which part of the source material this game covers it's Part I. Shippuden is not included.
Structure is something that warrants couple of lines of explanation as well. Game runs on having a large hub area, Hidden Leaf Village in this case, where you can faff around for a while until you discover it's pretty damn empty. You get some shops and save points alongside NPCs to talk to here-and-there, but seemingly nothing else. That's only the case until you get a grasp on how missions work because they're apart from the main hub and you have to select them from a menu where they're separated into rank tiers ranging from D to S + main tab for the campaign which has point requirements you need finished side missions to accrue. Finish a mission, get your reward in the form of currency and items, progress! Completing missions also spawns stuff like collectible scrolls, ingredients and secret move scrolls in the hub which you collect. Thing is, this happens after almost every mission AND they always pop up in the same half dozen locations.
Let's just say I got tired of jumping around like a money to collect scrolls and moving around blocks/barrels to get to chests or bags after an hour. Fortunately game varies this up somewhat when you unlock Rasengan move and can bust down doors or spin around on wires to get scrolls faster, but that comes way too late in the game for my taste. You'll know Hidden Leaf Village by heart before the story's over.
Boss monster battles are sadly something game rarely brings out. Expect QTEs and clumsily hitting a house-sized opponent.
Given the source material it covers a lot of the flashy stuff is absent. Once in a while you get to go all out with finishers, though.
Now, gameplay is really the meat and potatoes of the game as far as I'm concerned and it's one element I find myself at poor footing in this case considering it's a fighting game. Fortunately for me, Ultimate Ninja STORM also happens to be a pretty casual one at it so you'll be spared reading my fumbling over technical terms and such. I should first point out game runs on three pillars: platforming and collecting stuff in the hub area, fighting in arenas and some mini-games on the side. While couple of mini-games like jumping up tree branches, playing hide and seek with locals kids, etc are amusing distractions (except hide and seek, and whoever approved that needs to never again approve anything) it's the fighting part that's the real attraction of the show. You'll be doing it for about 80% of the game. Is that bad? Well, no. This really is a fighting game at heart but one bent more on spectacle and playing as your favorite characters versus pixel accurate zoning or some such. Not to say there isn't technicality to different types of characters, but I simply found that one of these two approaches will get you through the game just fine: A) gather Chakra and close distance to pummel enemies to death or B) gather Chakra and spam Ultimate Jutsu until it connects. Games gives you various tools like items and support characters that can not only be used as attacks on cooldown, but also be your safety net that can literally catch you if enemies launches you with their attacks. Iffy substitution dodge made me weary of actually trading blows with enemies, though. Freeform arena with camera doing some heavy lifting to keep the action framed yet cinematic took me some time to get adjusted to but once I did it was alright. None of that “my character is too far to see what he's doing” from my experience.
At some point I realized I was overthinking it and simply went with the flow instead. Not all characters are created equal and my favorite (Rock Lee, man. Rock Lee!) is sadly not featured enough in the story, but I'm convinced you'll to find characters interesting enough to play with considering they run the gamut of your melee-focused, range-centric, Chakra-heavy, etc. You should keep in mind I'm talking about the story mode where you slowly unlock stuff until you have a full deck of cards towards the end. Game also has a traditional versus mode... and that's it. Only two modes are included which might be a deal breaker for some of you alongside the fact there is no online multiplayer so you better have a local buddy.
Time to have to decide whether to go back and complete all the missions I have left, including dreaded hide-and-seek, get enough money to unlock extras and go for the true ending. Or not, because you get constant familiar loops over and over again with surprises running out early on.
You know, I don't really wake up one day and think to myself “kinda want to play a game that's turning 20 this year!” and yet these things happen. Lost Concerto somehow found its way to my list of games to play. Possibly because it got recommended on similarities to a certain other game at one point? Well, I'll get around it but don't expect my usual excessive review with this one.
Following the abrupt morning call which cuts his vacation short our protagonist Waffle is called back on duty as policeman seeing that Black Cats Gang is running wild in local town. Well, “policeman” in this setting means you get to drive a cool ass Police Robo, a one-seater mech with surprisingly nonexistent defenses because the driver is pretty exposed. Another interesting cosmetic choice is usage of continuous tank tracks for arms which presumably allows the Robo greater increase in control freedom. Also worth noting is “town” stands for a floating island in the Kingdom of Prairie where game is set and populated by Dog-People as well as Cat-People. As you can suspect something is afoot and it doesn't take long before Waffle runs into one of the leaders of the Black Cats Gang and recognizes her as Alicia, cute cat girl he seemingly gave a pendant to when they were kids in a flashback cutscene.
What could it all mean? What deeper mystery is afoot? Well, surprisingly quite a bit in the story department, but it's all filtered through a game clearly aimed at kids that never goes beyond that even with underlying stuff that's clearly laid down. For example, I was surprised that racial animosity seems to be behind events, but more than that it's character archetypes that drive the story. You've seen it all – dutiful, straight face protagonist who has to contend with eccentric support cast, energetic sidekick, aloof love interest two timing as the antagonist, hot-headed rival, etc. It is what it is and I have no complaints in the this department other than game being short seeing as I clocked in barely four hours to finish. This is not necessarily a horrendous thing it would appear to be in modern times, though. Game doesn't waste time nor does it pad its run time.
While I'm on the positives still I should probably mention the most apparent one and that's the games production value at a first glance. Those low-poly graphics have aged pretty decently if you squint hard enough because while they lack the distinct cell-shading art style a certain blue bomber game employs they're still put to good use and everything clicks together marvelously. Another major point is the fact game has voice acting for all major scenes and that's most of the game seeing as there's little side stuff beyond collecting pieces of photographs.
Said illusion falls apart somewhat when you actually play Tail Concerto and see the framerate vary wildly, but I'll get into that stuff soon. As in now.
It doesn't take long to start sympathizing with Waffle and all the shenanigans he has to deal with from seemingly everyone else.
Let's just say you'll be seeing a lot of the same robot bosses with more and more gadgets bolted onto them. And helping couple of mechanics along the way.
Now, I don't really have any game breaking bugs or design issues with Tail Concerto, but there are definitely two aspects of the game that somewhat drag it down. First more than the other.
Firstly – it's a really simple game. Yeah, I get it because it's aimed at kids, but I'm referring more to the fact it had more to do with struggling with some systems like early 3D camera. Even beyond that and drawing actual comparisons to Mega Man Legends is the fact nothing really changes from the beginning to the end. You'll rely on your trusty swipes and bubble gun to occasionally capture rogue kittens and deal with bosses in highly charming action adventure ways as camera moves around because analog stick was a novelty, but that's it. There's no progression involved and game only gives you a jetpack for level which is probably for better considering how it controls. Which brings me to...
Platforming and controls. Sweet Jesus. Can you believe this brought the game down from a good score for me? It's all fun and games until the you're about three quarters into the journey when it seemingly piles on. Maybe it's the same boss over and over again fatigue kicking in with smaller arenas where camera has to find the right angle, but I got a bad feeling when you had Waffle jumping between pipes and doing a timed platforming escape from a collapsing evil secret base that's only made worse by the fact very long winded and lose controls are not built for this even if you disregard early 3D games not knowing how to handle such things at first. Last section of the game has it the absolute worst with moving platforms, inability to judge jumps due to having no direct camera control, etc. I lost more lives aka Whistles during these two levels than I did in the entire game up to that point and it was pretty rough crashing down from smooth and almost too easy of an experience.
The way it tends to go every year this one has also run its course. 2018's end is almost upon us and what a run it's been. Hectic job schedule and even more responsibility has left me with barely any time to actually play games or read books in the second half of the year. Which makes it even stranger when circumstances conspire in order to allow me to binge on a game in just two-three days.
In any case it's one more year I've survived on BLAEO. Shame some people aren't active on the site any longer, but there's been a ton of new faces who joined so you might say it balances itself out. My output had dropped significantly to less than half of what I put out last year yet hope remains things will change for the better.
Best wishes for 2019!