First Impression: Don’t Starve

Yeah the game is brutal.  Anyone who starts it up already knows this so there’s not much to complain about there. But the extent of what that means is a bit overwhelming even if you’re prepared for it.  The world is a complete mystery when you start out, and the things that will kill you and help you are constantly surprising.  There’s immediate needs, fire & food, but quickly things turn to science.  And here is where the biggest initial complaint comes in.  Do develop technology you need to build a “Science Machine”, to build one of these guys, you need a lump of gold.  Gold is not that easy to come by, so the first 30 minutes of every game you play is a desperate scramble to find some of this resource.  Once you’ve found it, there’s usually ample amounts, but trying to stumble upon it is one of the more frustrating aspects of the game.

DS_fire

But it keeps you coming back.  Even with nothing to show for it, you keep exploring the beautiful and insane world.  Masochism can be fun.


The Banner Saga Review

Title:  The Banner Saga
Maker:   Stoic
System: Mac
Cost: $25

A display piece

When you see screenshots of the Banner Saga it looks beautiful.  In motion, it doesn’t quite hold true.  This encapsulates most of the game- a series of ideas, all of which could be magnificent, but in reality never come together.  This feeling stretches throughout.  The caravan you drag along serves as nothing else but a glorified high score.  Combat is a cake walk until a massive difficulty spike at the end (hope you didn’t spread your levels).  “War” events don’t seem to serve a purpose, and new character development is heavy at the beginning and nearly non-existent by the end.

The-Banner-Saga

The game is the first of a trilogy, and it’s easy to use this as an excuse for lack of execution.  But anytime you pay $25 on Steam, you expect it to be self-contained.  As it stands it’s less than half-realized.  You could also make a case for the game being too short, but why fault a game for removing the padding?  The pace is brisk, with little fluff, and to it’s credit it’s easy to sink yourself in.

The story remains the high note, and the dialogue is decent but forgettable.  Much has been said about the moral ambiguity the game provides, and while it’s revolutionary next to the black and white morality of Shin Megami Tensei or Mass Effect, most of the time it feels arbituary.  You make a decision and just wait to year if the wheel stops in your favor.

In the end, it’s clear that what was written on white boards in development sessions became to much in execution, and needed to be paired back considerably.  A reduction isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is when compromised versions of the original ideas are left in the game.

Review: 2 Stars (out of 5)

Memory:  The setting.  I want more games with Nordic influence.


Epilogue: Crimson Shroud

It’s encouraging to realize that a game that was crafted for a short play experience, could be designed so well as to have you coming back for more.  Crimson Shroud’s New Game+ is one of these rarities: unlocking new locations, providing new weapons and dialogue, in addition to the obligatory second ending.  The system is also deep enough to have little tricks, which are only made apparent after extended play.  For example, rolling the dice for everything begins to bog down the experience, but then you realize you can “tilt” the dice off of the screen and into your inventory.  Small feature, but adds a late game differentiator. The best part however is that the difficult truly hits it’s sweet spot.  The normal difficulty keeps you thinking, but NG+ actually has you planning and using the entire range of tools at your disposal.  You can still grind it out, but you’ll have to utilize item manipulation.

More jovial than the game...

More jovial than the game…


Real Racing 3 Non-Review

Title: Real Racing 3

I’m not sure if I can actually be upset with Real Racing 3.  It’s not like it promised me something that it couldn’t deliver, it’s just that within the confines of a free game, you really don’t have many options.  The app, with the a zoomed in fat white car, sat on my iPhone for months, and it was a long bus ride to the airport (after my PSP had died), that I finally gave it a chance.  Graphically is where it does the most right.  It looks somewhere between the PS2 and the PS3, nothing to be sad about for an iOS game.  And the setup isn’t bad, but it becomes obvious almost immeidately the path it’s going to walk you down.  The first few races aren’t difficult, and as long as you’re paying attention you can win easily.  This allows you to afford your first upgrades (courtesy of easy money and upgrade tokens).  Repeat in the next races, which ratchet up the difficult a little bit more (but not enough that you’ll lose), and the process begins again.  Eventually it will get to the point that instant gratificatoin is removed, and the only way to progress without massive amounts of time is by spending real money.  There’s nothing wrong with this model (you know it’s coming when you download the game), it’s just that it takes all sense of achievment out of it.  Still, if you need a solid free game, you could do a lot worse.

That said, it didn’t save it from being deleted after 25 minutes.

Soooo glossy

Soooo glossy


Shin Megami Tensei 4 Review

Title:  Shin Megami Tensei 4
Maker:   Atlus
System: 3DS
Cost: $39

A pretty veneer for nonexistent changes

Tokyo is still huge, fucked up, and full of monsters

Tokyo is still huge, fucked up, and full of monsters

When I began “4”, it was my intention to see the latest Shin Megami Tensei through to the end.   And as I’ve come close to completing the game, again I find that my desire to see it through isn’t strong enough.  There are definite reasons for this: the characters exist only to serve as mirrors, and the difficulty curve that was captivating at the beginning, starts to fall apart mid-way through (especially if you put in extra time outside the main quest).  And yet, those problems exist in many great games.  So where does it really stumble?  And here again, it goes back to that simple A,B,C choice.  Technically, there are more than three endings, but in reality they all fall in the same Law, Neutral, and Chaos silos that have framed many (but not all) of the SMT games before it.  So as soon as you realize what path you’re on, the illusion disappears, and it becomes the same old grind.

Shin Megami

So where does that leave the game?  Well, it’s gorgeous (especially the dungeon perspective), it’s creative, it has a decent degree of freedom, and like most SMT games, it allows you the option to do as much or as little as you want.  It’s not a bad game by any means, and considering I spent over 30+ hours in the world, there must be something captivating.  However, this is not a side project, not a Persona game, but one of the “4” core games, and it deserves better.  The previous game in the main series was Nocturne, which came out nearly a decade ago, and from a technical level “4” is a strong improvement, but from a story and emotional level, it’s a rather large retrograde.

Review: 3 Stars (out of 5)

Memory:  The Hunter’s Bar background music


Soul Sacrifice First Impressions

Soul Sacrifice is a weird game.  By weird, I don’t mean “Japanese”, or that the technical execution is strange, I mean that it’s bizarre.   The first 15 minutes, which should pull you into the game, are borderline repulsive.  They’re out of place ugly (for a game that for the most part is beautiful), there’s no context (for a game with rich lore), and you’re companion, a talking book, is a huge burst of Evil Dead when it seemed to going the more serious route.  After an hour or two however, you start to get into it.  The actual narration of the story is moving, as you find yourself nudged in the direction of evil regardless of what you’d like to do.  There’s small annoyances that seem obvious- you have to go to the main screen for every little tweak and adjustment, and the story, although solid, is literally read to you in the slowest imaginable way (the narration speed could have easily been doubled).  But you keep playing, so that’s a good place to start.

Yes, that's blood coming out of his face

Yes, that’s blood coming out of his face


FTL First Impression (aka a lost night of sleep)

FTL

Faster Than Light (FTL) has the addictive charm that eats up 5 hours before you even realize it.  Like all games of that nature, it’s about understanding the rules, finding them and turning them to your advantage.  But even when you realize this, and you’ll become aware of the system that underpins the game quickly, FTL has so much charm that it hardly matters.  It’s not a particularly large game, but there’s enough replay value that you’ll keep giving it one more shot until it’s 4 am and you’re still wide awake.


Thomas Was Alone Review

Title:  Thomas Was Alone
Maker:   Mike Bithell
System: Mac
Cost: Humble Indie Bundle 8

Feeling it for quadrilaterals

thomas was alone

I’ve been sitting on the Thomas Was Alone Review for awhile, because I’m not quite sure how I felt about the game.  Full disclosure: I read several reviews for TWA, and I remember everyone praising the music, the narrator, and the fact it brings personality to little colored rectangles.  And while that’s all true for awhile, pretty soon the narrator starts to grate ( I don’t know if you can call it self-importance, but he sure seems pretty proud of the job he’s doing), the music veers so hard into Explosions in the Sky that it’s shameless, and all you’re really left with from those first positive impressions, is the fact that you’re having feelings for these little rectangles.  But really, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Graphically it’s more than serviceable, because while it’s simple, it’s exactly what it needs to be, clean.  The platforming controls feel good, but the action itself isn’t all that satisfying.   Often the action breaks down into trial and error puzzle solving, instead of actual platforming.  However, this isn’t to take away what from what’s been created, as the platforming gracefully ties in the personalities and abilities of each specific block.  This gives more life to small quadrilaterals, than the characters that exist in games with budgets a hundred times larger.

Conclusion:  You have to pay tribute  for what’s been created.  Even if it’s not bringing gaming bliss, it’s laid out a pretty good road map for bringing any character to life.

Review: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Memory:  The square that tries to drown herself

 


Opening a PS Vita (the Non-Review)

I thought I was really clever. Since Soul Sacrifice came out I’ve been having my eye on a Vita.  I asked a few people about a price drop, and the consensus was that since they didn’t declare it at E3, it probably wouldn’t happen until the PS4 releases. So when I saw a sale last weekend at Target I scheduled a grocery run to get me close enough to pick one up. It turns if I had been slightly patient I could have picked the thing up with Telltale’s Walking Dead and a memory card this week for the same price. Therefore, less than a week after the purchase, this review is partially obsolete.
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When the clerk hands me the box the first thing I notice is how small and light it is. The cardboard is thin and it seems more like a box for a knock-off retro console, than a legitimate system.
Outside
Opening it up there’s not much inside. But it’s compartmentalized pretty well, almost like the original wii’s bento box appeal. Inside I’m surprised to find a pack of AR cards, not that I ever used them on the 3ds, but its a nice touch.
Inside
I loved my PSP.  The thing was beautiful and slick, and in my opinion the most underrated system since the Saturn.  But the initial setup was a horror (and it happened every-time the battery completely drained). So I’m shocked when I turn on the Vita and I’m through the setup, including wifi and my PSN account, in 2 minutes. The screen is also beautiful and movement fluid. It’s only now that the little thing starts to impress. Logging into the store and finding all the Playstation Plus titles for download is easy, significantly better than the process on the PS3, which is plagued with long load times and convoluted menus. However, when I go to download it freezes on the “Preparing to download” screen. A quick Internet search reveals this happens ALOT. Literally hundreds of people are complaining about it. I have to power it down twice before it finally downloads everything on the third try.
As for holding it in my hand, it doesn’t fit quite as naturally as the PSP, which had the analog stick perfectly placed on the left and the four Playstation buttons on the right. On the Vita the dual sticks seem to sit low, and the back touch pad remains a novelty. But all in all, its a hell of a lot more comfortable than the brick that is the 3DS.
Really, my biggest complaint, is the complaint that has always existed with Sony. The characters and the voice that guide you along lack the personality of a Nintendo system. A door opens, and a small orange stick figure walks through. Is he supposed to be my guide? Why would I bother with this? Then I notice that the tutorial considers itself enough of a game to have a trophy set.  Ok, maybe I’ll give it a try.
Conclusion- All the strengths and weaknesses of the Vita are evident the moment you open the box. The system is beautiful, well designed, but horribly neglected. Flimsy packaging, an unsolved critical but easily identifiable download problem, and just a general lack of games, shows how little attention has been paid to the thing. I think it has the potential to be a tremendously enjoyable system, like the PSP, but will inevitably be underrated and underutilized.

Joe Danger Touch Review

Title:  Joe Danger Touch
Maker:  Hello Games
System: iOS
Cost: Free for iTunes 5th Anniversary (Normally $2.99)

…Wait, what am I supposed to do again? 

Joe Danger Touch

The first thing I notice about Joe Danger is that the levels are perfectly short.  They tapped into the right attention spans for a mobile game.  The second thing I notice is that it’s boring.  Not as bad as some other iOS games I’ve been playing lately, but boring enough I wonder why this ever became a successful series.  Maybe it’s big brother counterparts do a better job of keeping you vested.

It’s not for lack of content.  For a mobile game this thing is pretty  huge, and trying to get perfect scores will require multiple replays.  But that’s the problem, monotonous memorization doesn’t make a game fun.  It rarely feels about execution.  Instead, you memorize the levels enough to mechanically swipe your way through.  There’s a point system here as well, but it’s buried deep.  I do hold out the faint hope that digging deep enough into the point system might make a rewarding experience in and of itself (like good ol’ Tony Hawk 2).

The best part of playing Joe Danger is that its micro levels make you wonder why no major publisher has done a Wario Ware ripoff for the iOS.  SquareEnix, you need some cash right?

Rating:  2 Stars (Out of 5)

Memory:  “Jooooe Danger!”