My backlog extends beyond Steam... devonrv’s profile

In other words, you’ll occasionally see me post about…maybe not obscure, but perhaps unexpected games. I’ve already brought up such titles as Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean as well as Fluidity, and you can expect more in the future.

As for my BLAEO wheel: whenever I buy a game on Steam, I always play it a little bit right then so that nobody can say that I bought a bunch of Steam games I’ve never played. That said, I’m going to keep a game labeled as “never played” until I reach it in my backlog and plan on playing it actively.

Also, since there are some games I never plan on 100%ing, I’ll probably just use “beaten” for all the games that I’ve beaten, even if I’ve technically “completed” them as well. I’ll use “unfinished” for when I plan on going back to play all of a game’s content, even if I’ve technically beaten it already.

Lastly, here’s my review of my favorite game, as well as an explanation of differences between all of puzzle’s sub-genres (something not many people seem to know):

I haven’t had a whole lot of luck with retail games this year, so I figured it’s about time to make a post I’ve been sitting on for a few months now:

This is an action platformer. However, instead of the usual jump arc, you reverse gravity, similar to VVVVVV. Controls are responsive, game-play is fast-paced, and each level is only one screen long, so just like N++, every hazard is visible from the start, meaning there are no cheap deaths. However, unlike N++, there’s no forward momentum or weird jumping physics you have to get used to: forward is forward, and letting go of forward stops you (though there is a 4-frame delay between letting go of forward and your character stopping, like in Celeste). Unfortunately, there are only 40 levels, and the first three are just five-second tutorials. In fact, my only real complaint is that the game is pretty easy; it takes until level 8 for the game to start getting remotely tricky, and the difficulty doesn’t go up much further from there. If you reach a level that kills you a few times before you win, don’t be surprised if you clear the next few on your first try. I can also start to see why level design isn’t as highly regarded by others as it is with me, because this game doesn’t have much variation with how its hazards are used; the only level that really makes you rethink things is 39, where the guided-projectile spawners are placed in a more open environment rather than a hall, meaning there are far fewer safe areas and you can’t just rush through without thinking.

Even with its flaws, I highly recommend this game. After all, it’s a free Flash game, so you only have your time to lose. I’m sure for most of you, this will just be a 10 minute distraction before you go back to more substantial titles and forget about it, but for me, it’s one of the most polished, well designed games I’ve played all year.

P.S. There’s also a watermark in the lower-left corner of the game at all times. It usually isn’t too big of an issue, but there are times where it can make it hard to see where a platform is.

There’s also a sequel:

It’s basically more of the same. Same controls, same mechanics, same number of levels, same enemies; even the first three stages are tutorials for the same things as in the first game. The biggest change is that, instead of stone pillars that hit the ground every second, there are laser beams that shoot across the room, and they take far longer to disappear, which noticeably slows down the game’s pace. There are also teleporters; falling on one shoots you out of another. However, it isn’t uncommon for there to be four (or even six) teleporters in one level, and there isn’t any indication which one teleports you to which other one until after it happens. Plus, the game has a tendency to have teleporters spawn you right over spikes, so the level design is cheaper than the first game. Aside from this, the game manages to be easier than the first one. There are a couple new hazards, like diagonally-moving spike balls and the dogs that stay still until you get close, but you’re not going to find anything like level 39 in the first game.

Overall, this isn’t bad, but it’s definitely weaker than the first installment. It’s also a free Flash game, so it might still be worth playing, but if the retail version continues in this direction, I’d definitely recommend sticking with the free Flash games. (plus, the retail version zooms in the screen so you can’t see the whole level at once, giving it a blatant disadvantage over the free games)

P.S. There is technically a Gravity Duck 3, but even if you didn’t check the uploader’s username, it’s apparent that it was made by someone else. The game-play is much slower, everything has annoying sound effects attached to it, and when you die, the annoying music stops and you have to click the retry button manually, at which point the game takes far longer to reload the stage than the other two games. However, the worst part is that, when you beat a level and the next one loads, the arrow keys (what you use to move) will highlight the web-link buttons, so you have to click inside the game each time if you don’t want to activate those links accidentally. Despite also being a free Flash game, that (combined with the slower pace and annoying sounds) made me give up, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

When I first saw the trailer for Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, I wondered how trash like that could find the success that it did. I know that game has other inspirations, but I think I found its precedent regarding its mainstream success:

  • Dork Souls III

    13 hours playtime

    9 of 43 achievements

This is a hack ‘n’ slash. Right off the bat, the game pissed me off by assigning the lock-on to R3 of all things. It’s not like this is a twin-stick shooter or anything; the right stick is only used for camera control. There’s also no option to remap controls, so you just have to get used to it. The game even assigns combat actions to the shoulder buttons: R1 does a light attack, R2 does a heavy attack, and L1 blocks. Despite this, the face buttons have crucial actions assigned to them as well: the B button is for dodging and running, and the X button uses an item.

My biggest issue with the game is that its combat is designed completely backwards. Normally, games are designed so that whatever hazards show up or whatever the enemies do, the player always has a way to counter it. In this game, the reverse is true: no matter what you do, the enemies always have a way to counter it. What’s worse is that the results of combat can be completely random, so there’s no way to learn from failure and get good at the game. If you try to block an attack, sometimes it will work and give you an opening to attack, but other times you’ll get stunned (even thought your stamina bar was full) and the enemy will have an opening to attack you. EDIT: Speaking of the stamina bar, sometimes, successfully blocking a hit only takes away a little bit of stamina so you can combo the enemy, while other times, nearly the whole thing gets taken away from one hit so you can only attack once before having to back off. Sometimes the enemy will only attack once, while other times, that exact same pre-attack animation will lead to a full combo, with each consecutive attack coming quickly and closer to you, meaning even if you dodge away from the enemy, you’ll still get hit because your dodge move doesn’t go far enough. You could try to dodge past the enemy and get behind it, but sometimes, the enemy will immediately turn to face you and continue its combo, hitting you before your dodge animation finishes and trapping you into the rest of the combo. Oh, and on the off chance you do land a hit and can start your own combo, enemies can sometimes break out of your combo and attack you, and since you can’t interrupt your attack animation to dodge (seriously, why do so many hack ‘n’ slash games do this?), there’s literally no way to avoid damage when that happens. No joke: it is a much more viable strategy to run past most enemies than to try to engage in this laughable excuse for a combat system.

It gets worse when you have to fight more than one enemy at a time. The combat is designed around only fighting one enemy at a time, and for the most part, it is possible to lead one enemy away from a group to pick them off one by one. However, there are several times where the game forces you to fight multiple enemies at once, and due to the random, asynchronous nature of the enemy AI, it’s only really comparable to something like Rockman 2 Neta; technically doable, but there’s so much randomness at play that it can’t really be considered skill-based.

Oh, but that’s not all. The game also has a habit of hiding its enemies so they can surprise you and land cheap shots. I knew I was going to hate this game when I went down the first staircase in the first level after the Firelink Shrine, locked on to the skeleton dog, and immediately got shot in the back by an archer who was hidden on a ledge behind the wall. For those taking notes, this is NOT how to use level design to increase difficulty; it’s comparable to a 2D game using foreground objects to hide hazards. This is far from the only time the game does stuff like this, too: look forward to having an enemy run in and hit you from the corner where you couldn’t see it (bonus points if you can’t even lock onto it before triggering it), or for a seemingly empty path to have skeleton dogs fall from the trees. The point I gave up was against the Abyss Watchers because they so perfectly encapsulate everything wrong with the game’s combat: its reach is too far to dodge away from, it turns to face you if you dodge behind it, it can break out of your combos, it can easily stun you if you try to block, and if you do manage to get its health down a bit, it’ll summon a low-HP clone of itself to attack you at the same time (out of view, of course). Plus, if you do manage to defeat it somehow, it revives itself and gets a flame sword, increasing its reach even further.

To add insult to injury, the levels are made to be as confusing as possible. Multiple paths wind back into each other or dead end. Heck, the second bonfire (first checkpoint) in the first level after the Firelink Shrine is in a hidden-away dead end split path, and this isn’t the only time the game puts its checkpoints in out-of-the-way-locations. Plus, half the time, if you find the boss, that path will dead end as well, so you have to go back to wandering the stage to try to find where to go next. The worst example I came across was with the Cathedral of the Deep. I managed to defeat the boss only to reach a dead end. I wandered around the stage, trying to find where to go, but to no avail. Eventually, I looked up a map (because of course there are no in-game maps) and saw that the entire level was a dead end; I had to go all the way back to the previous area to find the branching path I needed to go down to progress.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this one. At this point, I’m convinced that the reason fans have used “get good” (and variations thereof) as a defense for this series is because it’s indefensible once you analyze the details. Lost Kingdoms is better and less random than this (and that game has a card-based combat system). Hell, even Drakengard is a better game than this since at least that game has maps, a radar to see nearby enemies, and clear objectives. This game may even be worse than the Tales franchise. Seriously, if this is what hack ‘n’ slash fans consider the proper way to increase difficulty, I may have to blacklist the genre like I did with RPGs.

  • Owlboy

    5 hours playtime

    1 of 12 achievements

This is a switch-hunt game with elements of stealth and twin-stick shooters. You’ll spend most of your time flying around large, empty areas, which make the controls feel sluggish (this is on top of the fact that your vertical movement is slower than your horizontal movement). You can dash with the B button, but that puts you closer to the edge of the screen (which, combined with the fact that the game likes to put hazards not far from screen transitions, can easily result in you getting hurt before you can react to what’s there). Sure, you can use the right stick to adjust where the camera points (since that’s how you aim your gun), but good luck doing that and dashing with the B button at the same time. It gets worse when you realize there are some shielded enemies that can only be made vulnerable by spinning with the X button, so you have to switch from the face buttons to the right stick to aim and shoot at them. The game knew to move the shoot button to the right trigger, so why didn’t it do the same for the other action-oriented commands?

However, this is far from a precision action game: for all but one dungeon, enemies and hazards are either non-existant or so sparse that they barely provide any challenge. Plus, despite this being a 2D sidescroller (the genre that basically invented level design), the level design does next to nothing to make up for the lack of challenge with the hazards. The most notable example is a zig-zagging hall in the Owl Temple: it’s completely empty except for one part where there are spikes on the ceiling. Those spikes don’t make it any trickier to get past that hall; they just waste your time by making you go slower so you don’t hit them.

Knock-back in this game is also absurd. A single hit from literally anything harmful will fling you further across the room than Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden combined (it’s literally half a screen before you can break out of the animation), and if you hit a wall during this animation, you now have to sit through a “slide down the wall” animation until you hit the ground and can get up.

Frankly, the fact that much of the game-play consists of switch-hunt-style “puzzles” means there are long segments that can be summed up with “bring X to the obvious Y, then push/hold the corresponding button, repeat.” The first level seems like it would be an introduction to the puzzle mechanics, featuring buttons that stay down and buttons that need to be weighed to stay active, but then you make it to the second dungeon and see that that’s basically all the game has. The only new things here are clouds that summon rain, wind that will destroy the clouds, and corks that block the wind, but rather than make it an action thing where you have to avoid the gusts or, dare I say, an actual puzzle, it’s just a linear path where you move the cloud up a bit, then fetch the cork and plug up the next gust, then repeat until you’ve made it to the end. That isn’t a puzzle, that’s a tutorial, yet the cloud/wind mechanic never goes beyond that (and it’s even dropped for the rest of the game).

To be fair, the action part of this picks up a bit with the mid-boss…well, half of it, anyway. The first phase actually has you shooting at the boss while avoiding its shots, but then the second phase has it retreat into its ship where it can’t be damaged, so you just wait near the ceiling until the cannon fires so it knocks some rocks loose that damage it for you. Then there’s the actual “boss” of the level which is just a “run away from the unstoppable hazard” segment, except this one has rubber-banding AI, so if you run too far ahead, it’ll speed up and give you less time to get around/shoot through the blocks.

After this is an extended, out-of-nowhere stealth segment: enemies immune to your gunfire will slowly walk back and forth, and if they notice you, proximity bombs will be spammed from the top of the screen on top of the enemies also throwing proximity bombs at you. Plus, they way forward will be blocked until you defeat all the enemies, and as you might be able to guess, since they’re immune to your gunfire, they can only be defeated from an explosion by a proximity bomb. However, the hit-box for said explosions is surprisingly small, so the bomb has to be dangerously close to the enemies for it to kill them. Combine this with how slow the bombs fall and the fact that the ones appearing from above spawn in random positions, and you can see how tedious this can be. I get that stealth games need some way to incentivise avoiding detection, but avoiding detection literally only requires you to wait on one or two slowly-moving objects to get out of your way, and waiting is boring (I still can’t believe there are developers that don’t realize this).

The next dungeon has an annoying darkness gimmick that limits your vision even more, because apparently the camera issue wasn’t enough. Once again, you have to move really slow so you won’t get hit by what you can’t see. Once you get past the first part and light up most of the rest of the dungeon, you’ll encounter a couple new enemies: one that stays still and shoots a projectile at you when it spots you, and worms that will jump out of holes in the ground at regular intervals. There’s even a part where the level design changes how you approach a situation by having a small hall with a projectile shooter, but putting a worm’s path right where you’d need to be to kill it, so you have to shoot the worm first. Dare I say, it’s actually kinda fun. Unfortunately, the game eventually remembers that it doesn’t actually want to be a fun action game and throws in another tedious switch-hunt mechanic where lighting certain torches summons a lamp, and killing the lamp causes it to generate the same too-small explosion as the earlier proximity bombs. There’s no challenge, you just need to lead the lamp to the next obviously-destructible block and kill it when it’s close enough. Later on, there’s a segment where you have to shoot a lever around a gear while also keeping two torches from reaching the bottom, lest they reset the lever. Not only are the torches constantly moving down, but the lever is also constantly rotating back to its original position, and since your gun barely moves the lever forward, you can only shoot at it for a few seconds before you have to go back to the torches and shoot them back up. Again, it’s not challenging; it’s just really tedious.

And then the game makes you do it again, only this time you don’t have to worry about the falling torches.

After this is the dungeon’s mid-boss, and for once, we have a boss that’s all about avoiding its pattern and shooting back! Unfortunately, the game expects you to be able to switch from shooting to dashing instantly what with how fast the boss attacks, but as mentioned earlier, that’s not really possible given how the controls are set up. Plus, stray projectiles can still hit you after you trigger the between-boss-phases cut-scene (the one that prevents you from moving).

After beating the mid-boss, the game sends you back to one of the large, empty areas from earlier so you can pull two switches and go back to the dungeon. Could’ve just set a fast-travel point and called it a day, but activating switches is this game’s raison d’être. Yeah, don’t actually build on that mechanic or make the path to the switches more dangerous or anything; who wants mechanical progression, anyway? Just throw some more gimmicks in there, it’ll be fine.

Going back to the dungeon, you’ll see that it introduces a new type of enemy (monkeys) for the second half, and what makes them hard is that they can spawn from behind the ceiling without warning. Other than that, this part of the level isn’t much different than the earlier part, being more focused on action and even having a bit of level design affect things, like when one of the fire-breathing shield-faces is placed on the wall next to the room’s entrance, but you can’t just go up and kill it since the destructible blocks on the side make that area too thin to avoid its flames. The boss is a giant worm, and while its attacks are well choreographed, it’s really easy to just float behind its head and shoot it a bunch whenever it comes out of the wall. After this is an auto-scrolling part where you just move up and down to avoid hitting blocks, but it’s really annoying since the camera keeps rotating and changing which direction “up” is (and because it’s hard to see when the floor and ceiling are closing in).

After reading all that, you may be thinking “that was a lot of action, and all in one level, no less! How can you say this isn’t really an action game?” Simple: aside from, like, two bosses (one of which is the final boss), THE GAME DROPS THE ACTION PART OF IT. After all of that is another stealth level, only instead of being forced into battle upon being caught, the gas gets turned on and you slowly lose health until you reach a switch (which may be too far away to reach before your entire health bar gets drained, so you’d better just keep waiting). Don’t worry, there are also some switch-hunts here to break up the monotony. The closest it gets to an action segment is when you pull a switch and a door opens, but it’s TiMeD, sO yOu’D bEtTeR hUrRy!1! (the path to the door is empty, by the way; not even any guards, much less hazards). The boss and its pattern definitely resemble something one might find in a challenging action game, but it’s actually easier than the second dungeon’s mid-boss once you realize you can just use the grapple ability to pass through the boss and its projectiles without getting hurt (and the boss may very well be impossible without said exploit). Then, you just wait for it to become vulnerable, attack it, repeat.

After that is the final level, and surprise surprise, we’ve got more switch-hunts, only this time, there are ZERO enemies!! The occasional set of spikes managed to slip through the cracks, though, but similar to that one part in the Owl Temple, they don’t really make much difference. Also, despite the entire rest of the game being built around flying, the game decides to take that away so it can add some extremely simple and bland platforming segments; the only thing you really need to watch out for is that you have to jump a bit early since your hit-box is thinner than your sprite. The final boss is done okay: it has decently conveyed attacks and its satellites are color coded so it won’t take much to figure out that each one is only vulnerable to one of your weapons, though I’m disappointed that the second phase is just a clone of the first phase.

So yeah, I don’t think I’d recommend this one. There are some good ideas, but its attempt at combining different genres just comes off as unfocused, not to mention the fact that it has to rely on basic switch-hunts to fill up most of the game-play (at least Ever Oasis and the 3D Zelda games knew to give the action equal focus). But hey, at least it has pretty graphics and smooth animation, eh?

Between this game and Portal, I wonder what some of these people look for in puzzle games, because it sure as heck isn’t good puzzle design.

  • Attractio

    6 hours playtime

    7 of 18 achievements

This is a hidden-object/First-Person-Shooter hybrid. Certain levels have you play as one (or, in a few cases, two) of three different characters, though the only mechanical difference between them are the items they have: one can change your own gravity between up and down (R1), the second has a gun that can change the gravity of blocks to any of the six axes (equip direction with D-pad or L3/R3, fire with R2), and the third can do both. There are also three block types: normal, large (can’t be picked up/carried), and gravity-changing, which reflect blocks away from them upon collision.

One of my main issues with this is an issue I have with all first-person “puzzle” games: because it’s in first person, half of the challenge isn’t in actually solving the “puzzles,” but in panning the camera around every corner of every room to make sure there isn’t a crucial block or alcove hidden somewhere that you missed. For example, not long into the green chambers, you’ll come across a hall with a low ceiling, followed by a lava pit and a single block in the distance. However, no matter which order you change the block’s gravity, you won’t be able to get it to your side because it’ll either hit the low ceiling and stop well before being in reach, or it’ll fall down past the lava. Turns out, if you get really close to the edge of the lava without falling in, you can just barely see that there’s a second block above the first, and that’s the one you need to work with in order to get the blocks over to where you are. The game does stuff like this quite a few times, so you can never be sure if it’s an actual puzzle that you’re having trouble solving or if there’s a hole in the wall (not to be confused with glass, another wall tile) that will just let you shoot the block to where you need it. Compare this with any 2D puzzle game worth its salt, like Toki Tori 1, Prince Yeh Rude, or Sutte Hakkun (or heck, even World of Goo): all of these games either have the entire puzzle on screen or let you move the camera around the entire stage, regardless of where you are. That way, you know exactly where everything is and what all you can work with. In contrast, not knowing everything you can work with is par for the course for first-person “puzzle” games, but that doesn’t require you to stop and think; it requires you to wander around aimlessly on the off chance you stumble across an item or opening you missed that suddenly causes everything to fall into place, and that isn’t fun.

Like with Portal, there were only a couple levels that I found to be actually designed around making you think about how everything works with each other: the final two tag-team levels in the story campaign (but even they weren’t entirely immune to hidden-object-isms). Speaking of team levels, the game requires both teammates to be standing right in front of the exit door to trigger the next level (instead of simply letting both be in that tiny room that doesn’t have anything else in it anyway), so there’s a bit of arbitrary logic in the game, too.

To make things worse, the last few levels are based less on testing what you know and more about introducing new gimmicks and hazards. I admit that action games introducing gimmicks is more of a pet peeve (and in some cases, necessary for variety due to lack of any half-way decent level design or proper difficulty curve), but it’s completely antithetical to good puzzle design. Rather than test the player’s knowledge of the mechanics, the player has to undergo trial-and-error in order to figure out the what is even possible before going on to solve the puzzle, and that isn’t fun, either. To provide examples, I’m going to spoil the “solutions” to the last few “puzzles” in the game:

First room: On the left is a block pushing a switch down. Lifting the block and deactivating the switch turns gravity off entirely, so you can only move by shooting in the opposite direction. The rest of the game never had anything like this, and as you can imagine, its extremely awkward to control. However, there’s also a grid of lasers blocking your path! How do you get past them? Simple, there’s another switch just sitting there on the opposite side of the room that turns them all off; just take the block from the first switch and put it on the other switch.

Second room: While earlier rooms required some action elements to progress (e.g. run past a large block before it crushes you, shoot and change the gravity of a block mid-fall, change your own gravity mid-run so you fall in a nook rather than slide past it due to how the game’s physics work, etc), this one drops the pretense and goes full-on action, featuring nothing but winding corridors and mobile rocket launchers. Oh, but there’s a switch on the ceiling and a block at the end, so I guess they just put in the bare minimum to meet industry standards and called it a day.

Third room: This is a two-for-one: Not only do we have hidden corridors (you’d only see them by going to the corners and looking directly up), but there’s also a new gimmick where you have to get on the block and ride it up the corridors (before now, blocks with gravity facing up would fall under your weight if you stood on them), at which point it hits a block barrier, causing the physics to bounce you up just enough so that you can either switch gravity and land safely, or use your gun to shoot the block hidden in that nook before you start to fall again. Plus, if you get on the block from the wrong side and ride it downward, not only will you take fall damage, but you’ll still bounce just as high as if you rode it upward, causing you to take fall damage again and die. This is why I hate “puzzles” that, rather than teach you how they work (whether by text or game-play), instead rely on knowledge of “realistic” physics or other “realistic” interactions: no matter what, there’s still going to be video-game-isms that make no sense and break the veneer of realism, yet we’re still expected to work around them to see what parts of the game match real life and what doesn’t; it’s no better than any other riddle-based “puzzle.”

Fourth room: This one’s a boss fight, and it’s the only other room to use the anti-gravity physics. Now, not only do you have to figure out what arbitrary series of events will lead to progress (“how was I supposed to know that turning the gravity back on would spawn rocket launchers? They didn’t spawn when gravity was on earlier!”), but you have to do it with really unwieldy controls. There are even times you have to lead the boss into the laser in the center, all the while it’s chasing you and you don’t have accurate control over yourself. Not only is that action instead of puzzle, that’s bad action.

So yeah, this one’s not recommended. Games like this are why I don’t buy puzzle games anymore (and why I’m hesitant even to enter SG giveaways for “puzzle” games).

After playing a few Steam games that weren’t all that great, I decided to take a break from Steam by playing a game I thought I’d like (and that I thought would be short and quick), but I had to give up finishing.

This type of game is a bit more what I was expecting from the previous game I played that had its price slapped on the cover

This is a horizontal shmup, but rather than have stages with fixed scrolling and reliable enemy placement, stages loop and enemy waves spawn based not on where you are, but on how much time has passed. You can even change which direction you’re moving, which also changes which side of the screen enemies spawn from (even mid-enemy-wave). Because of this, there isn’t really any fixed level design outside of the locations of the ten enemy spawners in each level (and the enemies they spawn are different from the ones that appear in waves over time). As more spawners are destroyed, enemy waves appear quicker (and in later stages, shoot faster bullets). Once all ten enemy spawners are destroyed, the scrolling becomes fixed, enemies stop spawning, and the boss appears. For controls: on top of your standard shot (which actually shoots two thin, parallel shots), you can drop a bomb; only one can be on screen at a time, but rather than having a large destruction range like in other shmups, it’s just a tiny projectile that moves with your own momentum and barely does any more damage than your standard attack, so it’s hard to aim and rarely useful. Your standard shot doesn’t have rapid fire, either (you have to hit the button for each shot, and each spawner takes several shots to be destroyed), so look forward to your thumb hurting after almost every round.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that, despite the game being 2D, its camera is a strong contender for the worst game camera of all time. First of all, keep in mind that even if you’re not holding a direction, you still move forward, along with the camera; holding forward just makes you move forward faster (you can stop completely if you move to the bottom of the stage, but I rarely found this to be useful). However, holding forward doesn’t cause the camera to move with you; instead you have to keep holding forward until you get near the other edge of the screen, at which point the camera slowly pans back into position and follows at your speed (and if you let go of forward at any point, the camera goes back to its slow speed and you have to start the process over). Either that, or you have to stop holding forward entirely and hope that your slower speed can avoid the enemies while you wait for the camera to go back into position. This isn’t even the worst part: the camera tries to keep you on the side so that you can see more in the direction you’re facing, but when you combine its slow panning with the fact that enemies spawn from the direction you face, it’s easy to see how you might try to move backward to avoid enemy fire, only for another wave to spawn a mere 2-3 units away from you and kill you before you can react. Honestly, this makes the first few levels way more difficult than their respective bosses in comparison. Why not just keep the camera centered (except during boss fights)? That probably would have been easier to code, too.

On to the rest of the game: in the first round, none of the enemies fire projectiles, so naturally, in the second round (where projectiles are first introduced to the player), there are foreground objects to obscure them. To make things worse, the enemies themselves (including the larger-than-average enemy spawners) are also drawn in front of projectiles, which is an issue that plagues the whole game instead of just one or two levels. It makes the third stage quite a bit easier in comparison, despite the boss being a bit more difficult. The fourth round is even easier still, with all the enemy spawners being on the ground, thus letting you actually stop and shoot them without worrying about running into them (and if enemy waves shoot at you, you can just move a couple units forward). It’s so weird seeing an older game have such a backwards difficulty progression (difficulty curves are normally something they do better than modern games); it would have clearly been better if round 2 and 4 swapped positions and bosses.

Speaking of bosses, the first three are fairly light on projectiles: the first one only shoots them in a cone shape, the second one just has a smattering of projectiles rain down occasionally, and the third shoots lasers (though they get faster when the boss gets low on health, even getting to the point where bombs are actually useful since you can’t really get between them, shoot, and get out fast enough). The fourth and fifth boss are closer to traditional shmup bosses, shooting lots of projectiles consistently, though they also have multiple weak points that need to be taken out. The fifth boss is a little unintuitive since you have to take out all of the front ones before the next set are vulnerable, even though you can clearly hit them with your shots (and they can shoot you) before then. The sixth boss takes things in a different direction: rather than have any projectiles at all, it has six hazard walls that rotate around the center, so you have to keep circling around the boss’s weak point with them to avoid dying. However, rather than speeding up as the boss loses health, said hazard walls speed up over time. It’s sort of a reverse Dynamic Difficulty: rather than get harder the better you do, it gets harder the worse you do. Plus, they also give barely any opening to shoot the weak point (it’s so thin, only one bullet from each of your twin shots can make it through), and it also spawns from the left side of the screen rather than the right like all other bosses, so expect to die a few times before you beat it.

However, as devious as the sixth boss is, the seventh boss is the worst part of the game. It starts off innocent enough: it’ll split apart and fly into the camera, then try to reform on top of you, at which point it pauses, letting you counterattack, then it repeats its pattern. Also, just like the round six boss, it gets faster; the problem is that it gets so fast, it eventually surpasses your own speed, making this boss literally impossible…at least, unless you buy a speed-up item from the shop. However, keep in mind that 1) none of the rest of the game requires a shop upgrade, 2) the shop only appears at the beginning of the level and when you’re around halfway done, 3) you can only change your equipment right after exiting a shop, 4) the speed-up items make it harder to dodge enemies and projectiles, and 5) the first two speed-up items STILL aren’t fast enough! On top of all this, since speeding up its pattern is all the boss does, it’s really easy once you have a fast enough speed-up item, so this boss really only exists as a trial-and-error quarter-muncher. No wonder arcades are dying out.

Oh, and did I mention that none of the levels have checkpoints? If you get hit a single time, even against a boss, you’re sent back to the beginning of the whole level.

On a more positive note, this version of the game has four extra levels that aren’t in any other version (not even the other PS2 version), which is three more than the X68000’s measly one extra level that isn’t in any other version. While its hard to say the levels have…really any level design due to the nature of enemy waves, the bosses here are some of the best in the whole game. The new rounds are placed between the final two rounds from the original game, pushing the former round 8 to round 12. The boss of the new round 8 is a totem tower: the top shoots guided bullets, and the other four segments slide large hazards back and forth, with the weak points being behind said hazards. When a weak point on a totem segment is destroyed, its respective hazard disappears, but the top segment shoots projectiles more frequently. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but on top of the usual “hazards hide bullets” issue, this boss also has a reverse-Dynamic-Difficulty thing going on where if you take too long, the boss moves forward and the hazard movements get more erratic, giving you less room to maneuver (especially if you started from the bottom and went up). When all the weak points are destroyed, the main tower disappears and the head moves up and down, shooting at you, and if you get in front of it, it charges forward. Despite its issues, it’s a much better fit to follow the round 6 boss than what we actually got.

Round 9 is the only other round to put all of the spawners at the bottom, and as a result, creates another sudden drop in difficulty, despite the fact that this stage is the only other one besides round 2 that has foreground objects. The boss, on the other hand, is still a drop in difficulty compared to the previous three, but only gets harder in relation to its health going down, which is a nice change of pace. It’s a circle with 8 turrets around it and four shields that cover every other one; the uncovered ones fire, then the shields move one turret to the side, then the pattern repeats; as more turrets are destroyed, the remaining ones shoot bullets that split into more projectiles.

Round 10 is fairly unique because it has a diagonally-moving enemy that ignores the camera’s scrolling, instead just sliding across the screen. All previous enemies that ignored the stage’s scrolling kept to the margins, so far away that if you tried to run into them, the camera would readjust itself, but for these enemies, the awkward camera just makes it even harder to dodge them. The boss is a weak spot surrounded by rotating, fragmented circles; while the circles themselves won’t hurt you (they’ll just push you out of the way), there are hazards orbiting between them, and they’ll still block your shots, so you have to weave toward the center to hit the weak point (which is itself surrouned by a rotating shield, but the gap is significantly larger than the one for round 6’s boss).

While round 10 still isn’t as difficult as round 8, round 11 is even less so; while it has a camera-ignoring enemy that moves across the screen, this one will stop and move vertically for a bit first, giving the player more time to kill them before anything crazy happens. The boss is also easier: while it starts near the camera and tries to run at you like the stage 7 boss, this one is reliably avoidable without power-ups, so it also shoots some projectiles from the bottom of the screen before moving up itself, which isn’t much harder than the round 2 boss. Plus, when it gets low on health, it gets easier since it stops attacking and just slowly chases you; maybe I just encountered a glitch?

The final round is a departure from the rest of the game since there’s only one shop encounter (at the very beginning) and also no enemy waves; instead, it’s just a gauntlet of all the previous bosses. However, these versions of the bosses are different than their original counterparts, shooting more bullets and moving faster. Normally, I’d appreciate the fact that these aren’t total rehashes of earlier bosses like I’ve seen in other games, but unfortunately, the round 7 boss is among them, once again being impossible without a speed-up item, but now you need the absolute fastest speed-up item to avoid it. Not only does this make all of the other projectile-based bosses unfeasible, but this round also includes the new bosses once you’ve beaten the old ones, starting with the round 8 boss (which is hard enough even when you’re in control of yourself). Needless to say, this is the part where I gave up.

So yeah, I would not recommend this game. There’s a good game buried in here (or at least an okay game), but the awkward camera and the round 7 boss ruin much of what could have made the game fun. You’d think with this being a remaster and all, they’d go back and fix the game’s major issues, but I guess not. If you’re still set on playing it, here’s my recommended stage order:

4.Doli Micca
3.La Dune

P.S. The “rapid” fire upgrade is a lie; it only shoots, like, twice per second, making it even less useful than bombs. If you think it will save your thumbs, you’re sorely mistaken.

I got this game the year it came out, but I decided to put it off until after I beat Legend of Legacy (which I got at the same time), and now, new physical copies are almost half-price online. Oh well.

There's a face in the leaves right next to the ESRB rating. I just wanted to point that out.

This is a Zelda-clone with hack ‘n’ slash combat and town-management elements. Exiting the main town (the titular oasis) leads you into an empty open area with scattered enemies and a few paths on its edges, but trying to explore beyond your current story objective just uncovers progression-based roadblocks (just like in real Zelda games!☺). The main difference is that, in this game, examining the roadblock in question will display an icon that shows exactly which ability it requires, thus dropping the pretense that these switch-hunts were ever puzzles in the first place. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any level design here besides said switch-hunts, so the game-play has to stand entirely on the merits of its combat, AND (drum-roll)…it’s okay. You attack with the A button, do a jumping-attack with the X button (for hitting flying enemies), dodge-roll with the B button, and summon a tornado with the Y button (which is really more of a switch-hunt ability since its only combat use is to lower the defense of sand monsters). One thing I want to draw attention to is that enemies are really good at making sure their attacks are telegraphed (which is something other hack ‘n’ slash games don’t do as well), so it’s entirely feasible to beat a never-before-seen enemy without taking damage. Alas, you still can’t interrupt your attack animation with a dodge-roll, so you can end up getting hit anyway if you start a combo at the wrong time. Using the tornado is also annoying since if you simply press the button, nothing happens; you have to hold it down for around half a second, which is especially annoying during time-sensitive segments that require tornadoes.

The other side of this game is the town management, though don’t expect anything too in-depth about it. NPCs will visit the oasis, and talking to them adds their side-quest to your to-do list. Sometimes, this can be as simple as “get me X amount of Y resource” or “let’s go kill X amount of Y monster,” but more often than not, they ask you to find a key item, and said item WILL NOT EXIST until after you activate the side-quest in question (and you can only have one side-quest active at a time). Once the objective is complete, talk to them again and they’ll join the oasis. Some residents can run shops if you have enough money to build them (and there’s little else to spend money on, so the only thing that would prevent you is lack of space), but you’re not going to be buying anything from these shops because the game won’t let you. Instead, you can restock their inventory by giving them the required resources, and after enough time has passed, collect taxes by throwing a tornado at their shops (tax is non-negotiable). Something that took me a while to notice was that if you restock inventory over the maximum, the game will not get rid of the extra stock outright; it will be sold over time like normal. Also, restocking shops increases a meter, and once it’s full, you can talk to the shop owner to go on another side-quest, and completing it will upgrade the shop in question (one new product to be sold and more inventory space for existing products). Beyond that, there isn’t much else; residents can’t leave, and if any visitors leave, they’ll be back after an in-game day or two.

One thing that really bothered me about the game is that it starts off really rough around the edges. You know how some people say that games need to introduce new mechanics regularly in order to be enjoyable? Well, this game takes that to its logical conclusion by hamstringing the game-play at first and making you earn good game mechanics by leveling up. For example, you don’t start off with a three-hit combo, or even a two-hit combo; you start with a ONE-hit combo, so there’s a full-second delay between each attack (plus, trying to fight an enemy a level or two above you ends up being even more tedious due to their HP and defense increase). At least you start with the dodge-roll. Another example is your HP: you start with a maximum of 9, and if you get hit by a level 2 enemy, you take 9 damage. It isn’t until after you level up a bit that you unlock “rainbow protection,” a separate meter that essentially triples your max HP (and that percentage only gets larger as you progress). It also takes some time for you to unlock the ability to fast-travel back to the oasis, so the beginning will have you running to dead ends to get something, then having to go all the way back with nothing but the occasional enemy along your path. Honestly, the entire first four hours of the game feels like little more than an extended tutorial, and you only fight the same two enemies during that time (and the only real difference is that one’s charge attack goes further than the other’s).

But hey, at least you can cite it as a game that *does* get better over time, eh?

It isn’t until here where the game finally decides to let you go into the first actual dungeon, along with introducing its core game-play feature: the ability to take two of your residents with you when exploring outside the oasis and have them fight alongside you. They have their own health bars, and you can switch between them using up and down on the D-pad (and certain enemy attacks won’t deal damage if they hit an AI-controlled ally). There’s even a weakness system with different characters’ weapons being strong against different types of enemies (though their level plays a far more important factor regarding damage output). Plus, it’s their abilities that let you get past the aforementioned progression-based roadblocks, and as you can imagine, this just ends up being a clunkier alternative to the Zelda games’ item menu since, if you don’t have the ally necessary to progress, you have to quick-travel back to the oasis (which itself takes around 10 seconds on an Old 3DS), go down the list of allies until you see one with the ability you need, then go back to the roadblock in question (at least the game lets you teleport to the last location you used the quick-travel ability, though this takes another 10 seconds). Sometimes, the game will require three different abilities in a row, and since you can only have two NPCs with you at a time, you’ll have to do that back-and-forth shenanigan.

However, if you thought the game was done introducing game-play features, you’d be wrong. Once you finally get enough space to build every available shop, the game introduces gardening: you can assign a resident to a plot in the oasis’s garden, but only if they can run a shop but don’t have one out. Later on, you gain the ability to send out residents who can’t own shops to gather resources from a previously-explored area.

But the most egregious example is how it handles festivals. First of all, the leader of another town won’t let you access the second dungeon until after you hold one, so it’s required (which wouldn’t be so bad except for how festivals work). In order to hold the festival, you need enough stamps from your shops, but in order to earn these stamps, you have to restock their inventory enough times. However, due to the shops having a maximum for inventory space, you can only restock four-resources-worth of inventory at best (and that’s only if the shop is really low on stock), and then you have to WAIT for the inventory to drop before you can restock by even one more resource (and I hope you didn’t upgrade your shops, because then the requirement for how much you need to restock to get that stamp increases by over 2,000%!). I get that the devs wanted to stop your action-side progress to make sure you haven’t abandoned the management-side progress, but this just results in making you grind, regardless of how much focus you put on the management-side. Sure, you can go to your hut to sleep and advance time by an in-game day, but don’t be surprised to wake up and see that you can only restock by another one or two resources.

Lastly, I’d like to give some more details about the combat. If you’ve read other reviews, you’ll know that a common complaint is with the camera, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. It is true that the only camera control is the L button, which either puts the camera behind you or locks onto/off an enemy, and it’s true that there’s no way to know if an off-screen enemy is about to attack you outside of a single, non-rotating image that doesn’t even point to which direction the enemy is attacking you from (it could be from the left or right, and it could even be too far away to hit you, but it will always point straight down). However, it’s entirely possible to lock onto one enemy, then move next to the other enemy and attack it instead so you can keep an eye on both of them (sometimes there are three enemies at once, but the same principle applies). The REAL problem here is that, sometimes, when you kill one enemy, the game likes to spawn another enemy after a couple seconds, usually off-screen, with barely any warning that it happened until after you get attacked (you might hear a faint audio cue, but that’s it). It also happens sporadically enough that you’ll forget the game does it until after it happens again. For example, in the second dungeon, there are glowing orb pedestals that do nothing except revive the fish bone enemies when you kill them, so you have to destroy the orbs first, but then when you go to kill the fish bones, the fish bones will revive and you’ll be like “I know I destroyed all the pedestals” only to turn the camera and see one standing where you KNOW one wasn’t standing before. Another example is in the third dungeon, where you’ll be fighting a sand version of an enemy, and by this point, you’ll know that it can restore its health by absorbing sand piles, so you’ll use your tornado powers to blow away all the sand piles, then start attacking the enemy, only for it to run away and restore all its health from a sand pile that showed up off-screen while you were fighting. You’ll also see sand fall from the ceiling (something you can’t do anything about) and form another sand pile, so you know that you weren’t crazy and you definitely got all the sand piles the first time around; the game just added more of them behind your back. I guess that explains why some of the unlocks are “you can instantly revive ANOTHER time after dying”; it’s to make up for some of the more cheap hits you’ll take.

Overall, this game is okay. It does some important things better than other hack ‘n’ slash games I’ve played, but it has enough issues that I wouldn’t recommend getting it at full price. Also, if you do get it, I recommend playing it in short bursts, as it can get repetitive at times.

Today is a rare day in BLAEO history: my amount of beaten games is the opposite of the number of my unplayed games!
Coincidence? I think so.

EDIT: Nevermind, that was before I beat this game.

  • Ass Combat: Assault Horizon

    7 hours playtime

    29 of 50 achievements

This is a flight-combat game. You have your standard “down tilts you up and vice versa” along with constant forward motion that you merely adjust the speed of, but unlike RaidersSphere 4th, holding left/right actually turns you left/right, so this is less of a simulator than other flight-combat games. In fact, this game doesn’t make you rely on that unreliable method of shooting missiles at other planes when you’re “locked on”; instead, if you fly close enough to the back of an enemy plane, you can push both the left and right bumpers at once to enter a close combat mode. Here, your plane will more-or-less automatically follow the enemy’s plane (you still have to steer and keep an eye on your acceleration or else the enemy will break away), and all you have to do is keep the targeting reticle over the plane long enough to charge a more accurate homing missile. Personally, I really like this new mechanic since it puts that whole “hitting enemy planes” thing into something the player has actual control over instead of the coin-toss that it was in RaidersSphere 4th. There’s even a bit of a difficulty curve with later planes taking more drastic evasion methods and even getting behind you and putting you in their close combat mode, at which point you have to slow down and wait for a reversal icon to show up so you can turn the tables.

Of course, if you’re familiar with my posts yet still continue to read them, you’re probably wondering what issues you’ll need to look out for if you play the game, and this game does have its fair share of problems. Notably, the game likes to shift the camera’s focus away from you in order to zoom in on a recently-destroyed target enemy for a couple seconds. You never have to worry about crashing when the game does this since your plane is always stabilized, regardless of whatever trajectory you were in when the enemy was destroyed. In fact, this wouldn’t really be much of an issue at all if it weren’t for the game’s tendency to place enemy planes right next to the mission border: I once shot down the final enemy in the wave (right before it transitioned to the next part of the mission), and when the camera finally cut back to me, my plane had flown out of the mission area and triggered a fail-state. Honestly, for a genre with no level design, this game has some mediocre level design. How hard can it be to copy/paste some more brown hills to the other side of the base so that the mission area border can be extended? Heck, why have mission areas at all? Just loop the terrain! It’s not like there are any landmarks that would meaningfully alter how players approach the mission objective, i.e. level design. Or heck, just do what Starfox 64 does and have the plane make an automatic U-turn at the border!

However, my biggest issue with the game is its overall lack of communication to the player. Sometimes, you can shoot down a non-leader target in one or two missiles, while other times, they take several hits and still keep flying (EDIT: for reference, every target in RaidersSphere 4th would die in just two missiles, with the exception of the final boss). The same goes for your own plane: sometimes, you lose in just a couple hits, while other times, it seems like your plane takes quite a bit of abuse and still flies. Also, as much as I like the idea of the close combat mode, it suffers from the same thing: sometimes, a plane will take a turn so sharp that it goes off-screen, and you still keep up with it even though you were holding the stick in the wrong direction; other times, the enemy plane is right there, and even though you’re turning with it, it breaks off anyway. However, the worst example of this is when you’re in an enemy’s close combat mode: I’m pretty darn sure I kept my plane outside of the red targeting reticles but still took direct machine-gun fire and missile damage. Half (maybe even all) of these problems could be alleviated if the game had better ways to communicate what’s going on, but the game never explains how to avoid attacks if an enemy traps you in its close combat zone; it never lets you know if an enemy broke away from your close combat because of your speed or your movement or what; it never shows enemy HP–it never even shows your HP, and heck, it doesn’t even let you know what your minimum speed before stalling is! I’d always heard that games were trying to be more movie-like, but this is the first time outside of an RPG where I felt like the mechanics were only there to give the feeling of being skilled rather than actually testing your skill. This is especially true for the final boss, where it seems like the boss has infinite health until all the scripted sequences are done with. Call me a conspiracy nut, but why else would it mask those details if it wasn’t secretly changing stuff behind the scenes? Maybe deep down, the game really is skill-based, but it’s hard to say because of the game’s lack of feedback…or maybe I’m just not a fan of the genre–who knows?

The game also likes to throw in gimmicky play mechanics that never show up for more than two or three missions. The helicopter missions actually have free movement (so you can come to a complete stop without stalling) with most of the targets being stationary or slow-moving ground targets. Machine gun fire can be dodged by strafing, and missiles are dodged by pressing both bumpers when the reversal icon displays on screen (though two of the reversal-icon’s three frames are tiny and the whole thing is rather hard to see). Also, the right bumper is used for firing your limited-ammo, non-guided missiles, so it can be a little annoying for them to go off when you just want to dodge the missile. Luckily, your own machine gun isn’t totally useless against the enemies you’re put up against (unlike in the airplane missions), especially since your zoom is a more reliable method of locking onto enemies than what the game actually calls its lock-on mechanic. The only real exception is when the game makes you fight other copters: it takes way too long to kill them with the machine gun, and it’s really difficult to hit them with the missiles (even when they’re basically at a standstill). Oh, and one more detail to file under the game’s lack of communication: late in the second chopper mission, you’re told to stay “below the buildings” to avoid the enemy’s radar, but a few buildings are way taller than the rest, so it would help if the game gave an actual specific altitude (especially since the game tells you what your exact altitude is at all times).

There’s a bomber mission where you have to dodge cones (representing the enemy’s radar), then enter a bombing mode where you just move the left stick and tap the A button when the cursor is over your target buildings. It’s rather dull and unnoteworthy outside of the part where the game makes you fly in one direction before it adds enemy planes to the mission (which you can’t defend yourself from due to having no missiles), only to then put your new destination in the opposite direction of where the game just made you go, barely visible because it’s at the very edge of your radar when it finally decides to show up.

There are also three turret missions, one of which is monochrome, and these are the worst parts of the game since the game never puts icons over enemy units like it does in the other mission types, meaning you can barely see them. It doesn’t help that you only get two pre-set zoom levels instead of an adjustable zoom (you get three in the monochrome one, but if your zoom is too far away, the game straight-up won’t render the smaller enemies). You also don’t get a radar, meaning you’re not going to see where an incoming missile is until it’s too late.

Overall, this game is pretty mediocre. It’s definitely a step up from the previous flight-combat games I’ve played, but it’s gimmicky and has issues with player communication. It might be worth picking up on sale if you haven’t played a flight-combat game yet and are looking to get into the genre (after all, I read that the close combat mechanic isn’t in many other games), but I’m not sure if I can recommend it to others.

I’ve been sitting on this post for about a week; I should probably go ahead and upload it before it goes the way of my Roundabout post.

"Play Anywhere" long as you're playing on a Wii.

This is a twin-stick shooter. Nunchuck’s joystick moves, WiiMote aims, A button shoots, B button uses a special attack (can only hold 3 at once), and the C button dashes (can be used to dodge bullets). There are four ships to choose from: spread shot, laser (goes through obstacles), homing missiles, and electricity that explodes when it reaches where the opponent was when you fired. Each ship gains experience as you get hit combos, capping off at level 3 (level resets when you go back to the title screen). Arenas are all square, only differentiated by background and placements of obstacles (I thought obstacle placement was random, but after tinkering around with the multiplayer mode, it looks like placement is static). Sometimes, there will be metal boxes you can shoot open to get power-ups, but your opponent can get them, too.

The main campaign is a gauntlet: 8 worlds with four battles each. You fight each type of ship once per world, though they’re in different orders each time. That may seem repetitive to those of you who prefer when games regularly introduce shiny new mechanics to jingle in front of your face at regular intervals, but this game keeps things interesting by increasing the aggressiveness of the AI, making the game more difficult as you progress. To be fair, the game does take 3-4 worlds to pick up the pace, and those earlier battles can really drag on (it took me a while to realize I had to drain the stationary opponent’s HP completely in the tutorial before the game would let me start the campaign).

I do have one major criticism for the game: the ships are differentiated by weapon, not by player. This means that if, for example, both you and your opponent have the spread shot, the screen will inevitably be filled with tiny blue dots, making it nearly impossible to recognize which shots are enemy fire, much less dodge them. This means that, even if you do win, you’ll be low on health, and your health doesn’t regenerate after each battle, so you just have to hope that the next arena has a healing item or an extra life (though losing a life just re-spawns you right there with some invincibility frames). Apparently, what Famicom Wars did in 1988, this game couldn’t do in 2007. I knew the game was a budget title, but how hard can that be? Maybe they could’ve used the resources they did on the character creator to make a dynamic palette for the ships instead.

There are a few other modes besides the campaign. There’s endless mode, where you just keep fighting opponents until you lose; time attack mode, where you keep fighting opponents until time runs out; and “Destruction” mode, where you fight waves of regular little enemies until you lose. The other two modes are okay for what they are (though I was satisfied after the campaign, so I didn’t play endless mode much), but Destruction mode will have enemies just spawn in random parts of the arena, so you’ll inevitably take damage when they spawn right on top of you. This really disappointed me since this is the only mode where you fight normal enemies instead of other ships. Plus, while the other modes would zoom the camera in and out to keep both ships on screen, Destruction mode has the camera at a static zoom, at a position where you can’t see the entire arena, regardless of where the enemies spawn (though it still tracks your movement, of course).

There’s also a multiplayer mode, which supports up to four players, though I don’t exactly have the means to test it out.

So, do I think this game is worth fifteen US dollars? Eh, not really. For what it is, it’s okay at best, though the game could really use better ship differentiation (especially regarding the spread shot), and Destruction mode could also benefit from some extra polish.

Here’s yet another game I bought with the intention of playing the older ones first, but between my Steam backlog getting ever bigger and Drakengard being garbage, I decided to axe that plan. I might go back and play them later; who knows.

She comes from a valley without cans.

  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

    7 hours playtime

    12 of 25 achievements

This is a platformer, but with the additional mechanic of switching planes (and, by extension, your hair color). On top of your standard “these platforms/hazards only exist in this plane” stuff that comes standard with plane-switching, there are moves you can only do in each plane: twirling (hold Y to do an extra jump and float down) can only be done with yellow hair, and dashing (push X to charge in the direction you’re pointing; bounces off walls and kills enemies) can only be done with red hair. Both of these can be done once after jumping, but you can only do one per jump (and if you twirl, you can let go and push the button to speed and slow your falling speed, respectively). Also, if you push one of those buttons while in the other plane, the plane will automatically switch, though it’s possible to switch planes without doing anything else by pushing one of the shoulder buttons.

First, I should point out that the game does some things right. Notably, the difficulty curve is fairly well implemented, which I’ve noticed is something that has become increasingly rare (even Celeste didn’t really have one, instead opting for longer distances between checkpoints to create the illusion of harder levels, only increasing difficulty at the start of each Side).

However, one of the things it gets wrong is a pretty crucial one: controls. Basically, when you hold left or right, it takes around a quarter of a second for the player character to build up enough speed to reach top speed, and when you let go or push the other direction, it takes an equal amount of time to slow down, so you’ll stop around a unit in front of wherever you let go of the controls. For the most part, it’s not a huge issue, but the game wants to be a precision platformer (something evident by the end of the first world), and when the platforms you’re expected to land on are already only one unit wide, that one-unit-long stopping-distance will cause you to slide right off the platform. Of course, this can manifest in other ways, too: for example, there’s a ghost enemy that chases you through solid tiles, and if one of those shows up in front of you, you may not have enough time to stop and turn around before you collide with it and die. The momentum may not cause you to die that often, but it will cause some of your deaths eventually.

The game also has some trouble getting its hazards to stand out from the rest of the scenery. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a level’s yellow-hair-plane to have red lighting, and even though the enemies are green and blue, the red lighting gives everything a reddish shade and causes everything to blend together somewhat. Of course, this issue could have been avoided if only the background and platform textures changed color instead of the entire lighting of the level. There are also skeleton enemies that charge at you if you’re in the red-hair-plane, but if you’re in the yellow-hair-plane, they throw a thin, tiny white bone at you that will absolutely kill you if it hits you (you die in one hit if you didn’t find a shield in the level or you lost said shield). Taking this a step further, moving hazards like crushing pillars or saw-blades render behind regular solid tiles, so if you can’t see the actual hazard, the only way you’d know it’s there is by looking at the edge of the solid tiles (a.k.a. the wall that’s connects it to the background, a.k.a. the part you wouldn’t be able to see at all if this were a 2D game).

Honestly, even by $15 indie game standards, this game lacks quite a bit of polish. The scripted sequence before the 2nd boss (where you’re dashing through a spike corridor) spits you out just beside the platform, so you die if you don’t react in time. Clouds are safe platforms in the red-hair-plane, but if you stand on them too long in the yellow-hair-plane, they zap you and you die (and of course, the game never tells you this). There are multiple areas where rocks continually fall from above, but one of these areas won’t trigger the rocks until you’re directly under their spawn point. There are also at least a couple areas where the model for deadly spikes is placed slightly in the background behind completely safe platforms, so if you’re approaching it from below, you might not realize you can even go there. The final boss can throw a hazard that follows you, and right afterward, the boss can shoot fireballs that trigger geysers, making the only safe places thin vertical corridors for a couple seconds (again, while you’re being chased by a hazard, so you’d have to lure it to just the right spot to avoid taking a hit). Heck, this even extends to little things, like how the title screen menu starts in the middle instead of the top (where the “play game” option is) and how it never says how many gems you need to unlock the boss level while you’re on the level select screen (it only tells you that you need “an average of half” during the loading screens’ randomized messages).

To add insult to injury, the game is also gimmicky. The worst example is in world 1’s boss level: there’s an object that moves back and forth and shoots out a spike when you change planes, and it’s used exactly twice in the entire game: the introduction is during a thin corridor where there are enemies and a spike ceiling (so you can’t kill them by dashing since you’d bounce into the spikes), and the second time it’s used is in the boss’s arena, and that spike is the only way you can damage the boss. This is easily the worst part of the game since you have to wait on two objects, moving independently of each other, to line up just right so you can cause the spike to hit the boss. Also, the spike is delayed, so even if it lines up properly, you still might miss.

Overall, this is a pretty mediocre game. It’s not terrible, but it lacks the same amount of polish you’d find in a free Adobe Flash game. If you’re interested, wait for a steep price cut.

P.S. The “holiday special” levels are all just clones of existing levels with minor changes here and there. I didn’t really find them worth playing.

  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - Rise of the Owlverlord

    2 hours playtime

    7 of 17 achievements

And then there’s this $5 standalone expansion. It’s basically more of the same (seven extra levels), but now there’s a lot more cheap hits. At the very beginning, once you break out of your cage, spikes start spawning from behind you and unkillable flying enemies come in from above to chase you, and it all happens so fast, you may not be able to react to it. After that level, though, it goes back to where the main game’s difficulty curve left off and isn’t too bad (relatively speaking; it has the same lighting/control/polish issues, though). I do have an issue with the boss, though: the boss will throw a blade at you that follows you, and the only way to damage the boss is to hit the boss with the blade. That’s fine, but the blade only damages the boss if the boss switches to the costume that it wasn’t wearing when it threw the blade. It’s not as bad as the final boss in the main game (and certainly not as bad as the first boss in the main game), but it’s such an arbitrary requirement that I didn’t realize the blade even damaged the boss at first, especially since the blade is no different depending on the costume.

If you liked the main game, you’d probably like this, too. However, I certainly wouldn’t recommend getting this instead of the main game since this one is way worse at conveyance, having text tutorials slide from the top into the top corner while you’re being chased by fast-moving hazards.

Those of you who read my posts will already know that I bought these games before I realized I don’t actually like the series, so I’ll try to keep this one short. With that said, the more of these I play, the better I think I can articulate exactly why I don’t like them (or maybe I’m just repeating myself; who knows). Besides, I already paid money for the game; maybe I can still get something out of it.

You can tell these characters represent the Light because of how washed-out everything is.

  • Tales of Zestiria

    44 hours playtime

    12 of 56 achievements

This is an RPG, except the battles happen in real-time. The right face button is normal attacks, the bottom one is for special attacks, the left one guards, and the top one brings up the menu. While holding the guard button, you can dash in any cardinal direction, though dashing to the side has you circle around the enemy you’ve locked onto (instead of going straight sideways). One major difference between this and previous Tales games is that TP is no longer a thing; instead, all attacks and dashes lower your stamina bar, though it refills completely within a couple seconds of not attacking or dashing. Another major change is that the battle camera stays behind you during battles (as opposed to being in a fixed position, only zooming to keep everything on screen like in previous Tales games), and this is a major change because now the camera can get stuck on scenery and prevent you from seeing anything. Plus, the one time the camera doesn’t follow you is while dashing, which is the one thing you’d want it to keep an eye on you for due to its context-sensitive nature. There’s also a new mechanic where you can fuse with an ally to get stronger attacks, but these are balanced by being slower to use, giving enemies more time to attack and stun you. As for recurring mechanics, an unfortunate one is that, despite the arena and enemy placement being 3D, your movement is locked on the 2D plane between you and the enemy you’ve locked onto (something I maintain only ever worked in Tales of Phantasia, which had 2D side-scrolling arenas where enemies waited in line). Sure, Free Movement also makes a return, but using it prevents your stamina bar from refilling because, apparently, half-way decent mobility is a broken mechanic that needed to be nerfed.

While the game doesn’t necessarily combine the worst mechanics from RPGs and hack-‘n’-slash games, what it does choose to combine simply do not work with each other and instead work to the game’s detriment. For example, outside of elemental weaknesses, the game has a triangle weakness system for different types of attacks, with normal attacks being able to interrupt spells (some of which outright can’t be avoided if they activate), but rather than make it a set number of attacks to interrupt the spell, it’s a set number of damage you have to do, meaning your level has more to do with your success than how good you are at the game. EDIT: Also, if you encounter a large group of spellcasters, all of whom are spread out, it’s literally impossible to interrupt all of them, meaning you’re going to be forced to take damage (I’d even go as far as to say that these battles are harder than any of the bosses). Another example is how stuns work: if you attack the enemy at the right time (and, again, do enough damage with your combo), the enemy gets stunned, and each Tales game besides maybe the first one always makes a point that, if you’re good enough, you can time your attacks with your AI-controlled allies’ attacks to keep the stun going for longer. However, what none of the games tell you is that enemies can randomly break the stun and instantly transition into another attack. Not only are you unable to do this if an enemy stun-locks you, but you can’t even interrupt your combo to try to dash away from the attack, once again resulting in unavoidable damage.

The worst part is that even if you try to take all of this into consideration and use skill to overcome the game’s challenges, it won’t work because the game simply doesn’t reward skilled play. A good example of this is the fight against Maltran: the boss has a lunge attack that’ll hit you if you dash backward, a spin attack that’ll hit you if you dash to the side, and no conveyance for either attack (so the only way you can hope to dodge is if you dash before the boss’s attack animation begins). Also, due to the aforementioned stun-locking, getting hit just once usually gets you killed (at least on Moderate difficulty), especially since, at this point in the game, bosses can trigger special attacks that take more than your max HP from you. After a few attempts where I tried to win using actual skill, it occurred to me that the only thing I could do differently was revive my allies so that they could revive me when I inevitably got killed by the boss again, and sure enough, that’s what led me to victory. That’s when I finally realized the central conceit of the series: it doesn’t reward skill because it was never meant to reward skill; it was made by people who only knew how to balance turn-based RPGs, but still wanted the action mechanics as a gimmick to separate it from other turn-based RPGs. Suddenly, everything made sense: that’s why so many parts of the game force you to take damage; that’s why you’re regularly sent up against several enemies at once during normal battles, all of whom inevitably have different targets and attack at different intervals, with the only possible way to win unscathed being if they start off grouped together and you manage to hit and stun all of them with your own combo; that explains why, after all this time, the border of the arena STILL won’t show up until you’re right next to it, inevitably getting in your way whenever you try to dash away from one of the attacks that can actually be avoided; that explains why there are status effects that PREVENT YOU FROM DODGING IN THE FIRST PLACE, and why every status effect prevents you from using an item on the character with said status effect; that explains why the final boss drops the pretense and has one attack that’s literally unavoidable, regardless of circumstance, and why the final boss’s one-hit-kill attack can only be stopped by dealing enough damage before it activates (something that’s literally impossible if you’re too low level for the current difficulty); it’s just the pretense of being skill-based without any of the things that make it actually reward skill. Sure, future games may take “feedback” into consideration, but the devs will always go back and sneak some more unfair crap to balance everything out. “Oh, what’s that? You want attacks and dodge maneuvers to be fast and responsive? Okay, but we’ll also make enemy attacks faster and larger so you still can’t avoid them regularly!”

So yeah, this one’s not recommended. The only people who’d like it are those who can put up with bad mechanics for the story, but keep in mind that the story is also kinda generic.