Slayin’ Review

Title:  Slayin’
Platform: iOS (reviewed), Android

How many slimes can you kill?

Cleaning out a closet I found an old Game Informer list that I had torn out of the magazine. It gave the top mobile games of 2013. On the list in the one-two spot is Year Walk (pretty cool) and Ridiculous Fishing (legitatemly awesome). After that it’s a bunch of Star Wars, infinite runners, and adventure games that could have been something if they weren’t redundant. Towards the bottom of this rudandant list was a game that pulled me in with a straight forward name: “Slayin”.

And the name is accurate. It’s simple, short, and a little sweet. It lasts a few sittings, and by the time you’ve beaten it, you feel you’ve seen everything it can offer. But to its credit, it asks very little in return. Its appeal is limited, but it wears it on its sleeve, and how can you blame a game like that?

It's got the makings of a good sequel

It’s got the makings of a good sequel

It’s not a terrible game, it’s just not much of one.

Review: 2 Stars (out of 5)

Memory: The music would randomly stop, but I could never figure out the trigger.


Bloodborne Review (a review for Souls fans)

Title:  Bloodborne
Maker:   From Software
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PS4

Making it to Morning

What should be said about Bloodborne, that hasn’t already been said? Well a lot actually. There are so many steps forward, and so many steps backwards, that’s it’s nearly impossible to tells who’s coming or going.

Let’s start with “who’s coming”: The story and the setting is so significantly improved it’s staggering. After three outings, the Souls games had started to rest on their laurels.  Not Bloodborne. I don’t know if they had a whole team of writers that ate, bathed and slept together for months, or if they had one half-insane screenwriter channeling the ghost of HP Lovecraft, but whatever they did, it’s brilliant. How you can keep all that in your brain without losing it baffles me. The Gothic motif, also allows it to give life to images that normally have no place in games. It’s well orchestra genetic disgust when you meet gigantic bugs with piercing shrieks, or tentacle face brain suckers. It’s also more cinematic. The story still doesn’t hold your hand, but does use beautiful cutscenes, instead of a complete reliance on dialogue. An improvement that I’ve been waiting for since the first Demon’s Sous.

Unofficial Cthulhu bastard child

Illegitimate Cthulhu bastard child

Add in a solid combat engine and this is a 5 star game, except for one massive glaring “going”. They recycle the same enemies, like an 80’s button masher, simply increasing their stats and experience. For a game that rests on combat, this is a huge issue, because the same enemies you’re fighting at the beginning, you’re fighting at the end. What this effectively does is skew the difficulty curve to the beginning, when you’re still learning how to stun-lock enemies, and first memorizing their patterns. By the end, you’ve seen them enough that no amount of extra health and damage is going to take you down. It’s understandable why this was done, the designs, and the enemies; they’re all details and cost a ton to create. But it’s a huge step back from the Souls games in this regard.

Frightening at first, it's muscle memory by the end.

Giant Boar – Frightening at first, muscle memory by the end.

Other than these two main points, it’s minor incremental plusses and minuses. Pros: Beautiful graphics, well thought out warp system, cool-dual weapon system, great endings. Negatives: Repetitive boss battles, terrible healing system (forces grinding), and obfuscating environments.

It’s clear From Software set out to make a game that’s different than it’s predecessors, and stands on it’s own merits. In that, they have objectively succeeded.

Review: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Memory: Everything about Rom, The Vacuous Spider (especially the name)


Modern Horse Physics

 

In Shadow of the Colossus, the horse that helps you cover the vast distances of the world feels like a bus. In years late in playing Red Dead Redemption. But it’s obvious the horse physics haven’t evolved in the last ten years. Movement controls in the game aren’t terrific to begin with, but the horse is out of his gourd.

Ico-SotC-HD-04red-dead


Demon’s Souls vs. Dark Souls

I’ve wanted to compare these two games for a long time, and with Bloodborne coming out, it seems like the perfect opportunity to look back on it’s heritage.

When I played Dark Souls for the first time, I couldn’t stop comparing it to Demon’s Souls (the apostrophe in “Demon’s” is so annoying when typing on your phone). This didn’t prevent me from enjoying Dark Souls, as it truly is a remarkable game. But I wanted to write this, and may continue to do so in greater depth in the future, because I often hear people talk about how transformative Dark Souls was. Edge Magazine (the reigning king of video game magazines, if there is one), rated Dark Souls the greatest game of the previous generation. This doesn’t surprise me, however throughout their article, it’s as if it’s immediate predecessor Demon’s Souls had been completely forgotten. Which is a shame, because regardless of Dark Souls, I would consider Demon’s Souls (and it’s stupid apostrophe) one of the greatest games of the previous generation.

Dark Souls is an amazing experience, an improvement in most ways on the original, but it was still only a natural incremental improvement. It was Demon’s Souls that revitalized my faith in gaming. At the time I first played it, it was the best game I had played in nearly a decade. In true genius form, From Software had given me what I was looking for, before I even knew what I wanted.

the bosses that started it all

Demon’s Souls had a simple premise, everything could kill you

Despite the overall improvement in Dark Souls, there were several things that have never reached the same heights. The difficulty curve had a finer balance to it in Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls implements what is perhaps the biggest detriment in the later entries: the ability to call in outside players. Multiplayer could be done amazingly. Instead, a fight against Smoug goes from world class challenge to laughably easy. Like any good cheat though, this is limited by a player’s willingness to abuse the system.

Don't want to wait? Just bring in a couple friends and ruin the curve.

Don’t want to wait? Just bring in a couple friends and ruin the curve.

What’s perhaps even more glaring is the fact that Dark Souls has ignored some of the more obvious improvements that could have been made. There were only a few cinematic moments in Demon’s Souls, but they add a lot of flavor (think Scraps pushing you into a pit). At first, each Dark Souls game appears to recognize this, as they both pull you into their worlds’ through their opening scenes. Unfortunately, this is about the last until the end of the game. You never want to replace action with cinema, but there are times when it can push forward the story.

great intro

Every intro is beautiful, every intro is the last

The other missed opportunity has been the open world. That was the most glaring thing missing from Demon’s Souls. Yet the way Dark Souls handles the open world makes it feel like long winding paths, rather than a single connected ecosystem. Traveling between points is a chore, a fact that was recognized in Dark Souls 2 with the fast travel. But this is only part of the problem. Until it feels like a complete world, instead of grafted on individual levels, the design will be hardly improve upon the hub system from Demon’s Souls.

In reality though, these are mostly lateral complaints. Not degradation, but simply a missed opportunities for improvement. There is however one way in which Demon’s Souls clearly surpasses its successor: the story, and the characters that live in it. There’s little than can be said without spoilers, but both make you piece the world together through isolated dialogue, but it was only in demon’s souls that the lore carries weight. Both endings are anti-climatic, but Demon’s Souls is intentionally so and beautiful for it. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in the lore of Dark Souls. It simply becomes an after thought, a little flavor text to flesh out the experience. I beat it twice, and I can’t even tell you how it ended. Demon’s Souls on the other hand was subtler and darker in its story. Each character a tragic figure, and you’re often asked to destroy those that are hardly different than yourself.

maiden in black

In terms of game-time, it’s probably a wash which one I actually played more. There are dramatic improvements in Dark Souls: the graphics are vastly better, it did away with a frustrating light/dark alignment system, and implemented a streamlined covenant attribute. The gameplay itself, which was the most transformative thing about Demon’s Souls, is somehow made tighter. And the level design… Demon’s Souls had two perfectly designed levels, two well designed levels, and one horribly designed level. In Dark Souls, all level design is a high note. It’s overall an improved experience, and as a result to the easier game to recommend.

Dark Souls is without a doubt an amazing experience. It might actually be the best of the previous generation (The Last of Us being a strong counter-argument). But to not recognize where it came from, and to fail to acknowledge that Demon’s Souls provided the most reinvigorated gaming experience of the past ten years, is to do a tremendous disservice to the apex that came after it.


The Wolf Among Us Review

Title:  The Wolf Among Us
Maker:   Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platform: PS Vita
Cost: $30

Much More than the Sum of Its Parts

Pop culture references the Walking Dead so incessantly, that I could never play the Telltale versions. They looked fine enough, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, even though I have the series sitting in Steam from a Humble Bundle. The Wolf Among Us is so enjoyable that it makes me want to go back and give those early games a try.

The story and universe carry the most weight.  The game does a tremendous job of weaving actual fairy tales into scenarios. For example, in a rage, you’re given the option to rip off the arm of a character named “Gren”. Once you realize it’s Grendel, the homage becomes clear.  When TWAU is at its best, it forces your hand in split second decisions. The options provided are often true to the situation, yet uncomfortable. As many games as I’ve played I would assume I’m desensitized to violence, but it turns out I can’t tear someone’s head off when given the choice.
Grendel
The biggest problem is that it’s glitchy as hell. It’s not clear if this is all versions, or just the PS Vita one. As testament to this, it’s the first game that has actually crashed my Vita and forced a hard reset (the error screen that appears is terrifyingly similar to the blue screen of death). Even when it’s running normally there are long loading times, stuttering between scenes, and a few points that require closing and reopening the application.
Choices
However, it’s well worth the bugs and the minor character inconsistencies, to have an experience in Fabletown. No single episode (of the 5) is nearly as powerful as the story taken as a whole.  They’re made to be played together.  And it’s this consistency and patience that elevates the package to something special.

Review: 5 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  The End

Dragon’s Crown Review

Title:  Dragon’s Crown
Maker:   Vanillaware
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PS Vita

Enjoyable Bursts of  Style Over Substance

There’s was a time half a decade ago when Vanillaware was killing it. It had developed Odin Sphere, which was gorgeous, had great reviews, and sold enough to warrant a “Greatest Hits” rerelease.  But the reality was that while Odin Sphere was gorgeous, there wasn’t much too it. It plays it’s hand early, which makes it a chore to see it through to the end.

Fast forward a few games, 6 years, and we have Dragon’s Crown. It’s graphics also received a tremendous amount of publicity, but more in the NSFW category. The graphical style itself hasn’t changed that much since Odin Sphere, only now every man and woman is hyper sexualized. It’s an odd choice that’s more awkward than sexual (see below for a few of the less cringe worthy examples):
gal Guy
 
So what kind of game is Dragon’s Crown? Here’s the run down:
-Is the story any good? What story?
-Is the battle system improved on Odin Sphere? Memory is fuzzy from that part of my life, but I would say negligible.
-Is the game world more engrossing? Less than their other titles.
-So what does it get right? Three things: On screen mayhem. A quest system that encourages quick play. And gameplay which grows in enjoyment as you learn the system and your character becomes a beast.

In the end, it’s a beautiful game of limited scope.  A single town, few NPC characters, limited differences between classes, and a shortage of levels, all betray that it’s a minor game. But it’s a minor game where you’re going to have more fun the final time you play it than the first.

Review: 3 stars (out of 5)

Forgotten Games

An old house is sold, and my articles are packaged and shipped to me from Minnesota out to Colorado. Boxes wallpaper most of my basement and my garage. Even a short lifetime of accumulation can easily overwhelm any storage space. I start with the kitchen supplies and linens, but soon have made my way to the boxes filled with video games. There are half a dozen of them, a few with incredibly rare Saturn and Neo Geo Pocket titles, while most is shovel ware for the PS2 and Dreamcast that I never got around to playing. The first box I open has perhaps the most pleasant surprises:

forgotten games

It’s mostly portable games (which has always been my favorite way to play games).  The PSP might be my favorite system of all time (so what if it’s all rereleases of Playstation games?  They’re still the definitive versions), and the first three games I find are some of the fondest memories I have with any system:

The 3 must play PSP games for any PSP owner

New PSP owner?  Play these 3 games first. Don’t own a PSP?  Buy one ASAP!  They cost like $5 dollars.

Most of the games that I find I have played at one time or another.  However there are a few that I meant to get to which I was never able:

photo 4 photo 3 photo 5

The last two are both unique handheld Ogre Battle battle games.  The first is Tactic Ogre for the GBA, a game that I did play when I was 14, but the memories of which are so intertwined with Final Fantasy Tactics that I can’t tell you a single thing that happened.  The second is an Ogre Battle game that only released on the Neo Geo Pocket Color.

The Tactics Ogre for the GBA intrigues me, and if I can find a GBA I’ll boot it up.  Given how fantastic Let Us Cling Together is, it will probably be my next Travel Log feature.


Non-Review: Mii Plaza Games

Mii Plaza Games
System: 3DS

Many people probably never realize there’s a set of built in games on their 3DS. I had it for long enough without knowing, that I had built up hundreds of tokens (which you gather from walking around with your 3DS) before ever realizing they existed.  These tokens, and passing people who also happen to be carrying a 3DS, are what powers the Mii Plaza games.

Over the next couple of weeks will be a series of Mii Plaza “Non-Reviews”. They’re not long enough to deserve a proper review, but they are addicting enough to have their own posts.  The best thing going for all of the games, is that very pleasing Nintendo aesthetic. Something that Sony or Microsoft, has never understood in their avatars: no one wants realism in the representation of themselves, just give me the amorphous cartoon version (the “Nintendo” version, ).

Find Mii Non-Review

A very simple fascination

Without spending any real money, this is as close to getting a free Mii game as it comes. The concept is incredibly simple, it’s RPG-lite-lite. Rescue the King (your Mii): Recruit some Heroes, enter a room with a monster, make some simple attack selections and advance to the next room. Damage to enemies is saved from round to round, so it’s really a war of attrition to find/purchase heroes and send them in waves until you’re through. There is some strategy as each Mii’s shirt color casts a specific type of magic, but a few complimentary combos is about the extent of it.
So it sounds like the simplest concept for a game imaginable, yet somehow I spent over a hundred tokens in a row recruiting heroes and sending them to their deaths. The simple mechanics betray and even simpler idea: people love progression. And as long as you keep at it, you receive items for your mii, and feedback in the form of progress on a map. Also, like most Nintendo games, the art style meshes well with the game.

First Impression: Dragon’s Crown

You realize almost immediately that Dragons Crown is a repetitive game. But so is Borderlands, and Diablo, and every other lootfest, so what?  So it becomes about the world, and the characters, that carry the rest of the game. Dragon’s Crown is better than most, but a step behind Borderlands 2. I would mention the story, but like any hack n’ slash, you’re moving from point A to point B, causing the story to take a back seat. It does scores some nostalgia points given the time I spent with Odin Sphere and Princess Crown (both the finest examples of 2-D graphics for their respective generations).

Oh, and the hyper sexualized imagery is somehow not as tacked-on as I expected.  But does remain odd, at-best (search “Dragon’s Crown Images” to see immediately what I’m talking about).

4-player is non-stop pandemonium

4-player is non-stop pandemonium


Why I’m sick of Mobile Games

The problem with Boredom

There is a tend in mobile game towards simplicity. There needs to be, as its made for picking up and playing in short bursts. It seems that games have gotten better at nailing this length aspect lately. But what they haven’t improved upon is the actual enjoyment. My tolerance for what constitutes a dull game is much higher on a mobile platform, but even still, so many lack the basic mechanics for enjoyment.

For every Punch Quest and Ridiculous Fishing, there’s dull affairs like Joe Danger Touch and Peggle. Technically proficient, good content depth, but a fucking bore to play. For a couple bucks you don’t ask for depth, you’re just asking for fun.