Severed Review

Vita Finale

Platform: PS Vita

Severed so demolished my expectations of what a touch based Vita game can be that I’ve struggled to write about it. The art style is mesmerizing, and fits perfectly in its resonate setting and understated story. Its uniqueness has made me reconsider the medium of “touch” as something more than a wasteland of F2P and convenient mouse conversions.

While it lasted, my days were better because I knew I would get to play Severed later.

The culmination of a gradual descent

Severed makes only one mistake. But it is a cardinal mistake: Death has no consequence. That single choice spiderwebs out into a myriad of gameplay effects, neutralizing entire parts of the game like health items, upgrade accumulation and even inverting the difficulty curve.

Even with that, Severed is a good game. It’s so good I might regret not giving it 5 stars someday. 

Review: ★★★★

Memory: Finding the first member of your family

Forager Review

Little Bits of Dopamine Hits

Platform: Switch

Forager is a very earnest game.

It’s also the kind of game you only need a fraction of your brain to play. One third parasympathetic nervous functions, one third Forager, one third listening to Queer Eye change somebody’s life in the background (Jonathan Van Ness is a gay superhero).

I wouldn’t call Forager a grind. But it’s also never really challenging (besides the occasional puzzle). It’s just more zen: Make that. Pick up this. Build here. Explore there. A loop expanding gradually outwards with each circumference. The hook is a desire to see what quirky thing is going to pop up next.

It’s full of small, thoughtful gestures like comics and ‘making of’ stories

If a game can be ‘hand-crafted’, that’s what this is. Case in point, the creator’s face greets you every time you boot-up. His care and personality are what elevate the game beyond the simple mechanics and broken combat into something distinct.

It’s the kind of thing I would feel lucky to play with my daughter someday.

Review: ★★★

Memory: ‘Foraging’ so much at once the game slows to a crawl

Weekend Randomness

If someone wanted to start unwrapping the various neurosis that make me… me, I think my videogame purchasing habits would be a good start. It’s never a constant drip. It’s months of nothingness and then binging on all sorts of weirdness.

So unwrapping my most recent package, in my most recent binging streak, is a lovely Sunday dopamine hit:

Could “Video for All” be the best rental name ever?

Oni on PS2 is one of those titles I should have found a reason to play 15 years ago. But considering it’s lost in a Rockstar purgatory, it never really seemed that urgent.

The trajectory of the game after its release must have been heart-breaking for someone because there was clearly a lot of care put into this as evidenced by the Dark Horse pack-in comic (and at least 3 full-sized issues were released at some point).

I love this mini-comic. It’s both grossly overly-explanatory and kind of psychotic. Rocket powered heart-shaped hard drives? Yes please. If the game is 15% of that craziness, I’ll be a fan.

Parachute. Octopus. Parachute X Octopus. Call it a day.

I’ve always been a sucker for Game & Watch ever since I got Game and Watch Gallery 2 on GBC. So Nintendo Club only Game & Watch promotional games are going to check all the boxes. Yeah, it does feel a little lazy to only include three games on each cart (my old GBC game had twice that). But the fact that Vol 2 only has two games and then a third is a mash-up of those two games is so unabashedly classic Nintendo, how can you not love it?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice First Impressions

It’s probably not fair to call this a first impression. I’m guessing I’m halfway through the game and have been meaning to give my thoughts for a week.

Here are a few quick things that I loved about Sekiro before even booting up the disc: no DLC. From Software has said the game was complete upon release. The Souls and Bloodborne, while incredible, always had this feeling of something incomplete. You always had this feeling that there was more to be uncovered (or you wait until the GOTY and came to the party late). It’s a brave decision that probably doesn’t make financial sense but that I deeply appreciate.

No online components. This one is a little harder to describe. I miss some of the online features like the often intentionally misleading messages in Demon’s Souls. And I even liked killer shades entering the game in Dark Souls. But calling people into the world only works if the levels/bosses were designed with co-op in mind. Nioh is probably the most aggregious example of this. The bosses go from infuriating solo to a cakewalk in co-op. I understand it’s a an “easy” mode, but the idea of specifically designed solo-bosses is attractive at this point.

And so with all that in mind, how do I find the game? It’s an incredibly enjoyable experience: it’s well balanced. Plenty to explore. Linear but flowing.

And the part that I absolutely adore, that I continue to be impressed with, is the combat. Whomever came up with the concept of “Posture” system is brilliant. I would go so far as to say that the combat system is the most dramatic step forward since Demon’s Souls introduced the idea of a fragile constantly rolling protagonist. It almost makes me sad there’s no additional boss DLC…

The weaknesses are also not so much the games fault but the weight of it’s predecessors. The world is interesting, but not as mysterious and challenging as the Souls series, and nowhere near as engrossing as Bloodborne (which is almost unfair given the insane level of creativity and the disparate influences that game pulled together). It’s more literal. There’s a story, and you can even track it to some degree (shocking!). The people look like people. And there’s some demons and monkeys and snakes. But so far it’s mostly feudal Japan.

And the final thing is the graphics. They look good. But somehow they seem less striking than their predecessors, even though this is years later and I’m playing it on a PS4 Pro.

There’s still plenty of game left. It will be a cool experience to
see how this comes together.

Good Remakes

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Curse is the best remake I’ve ever played. Mostly because it’s not a remake. Instead it’s an audio and visual reskin, that can be flipped seamlessly. Press a button and it converts from heavily-layered HD graphics to the bright spartan 8-bit predecessor. Press another button and see how the reimagined audio compares with the beeping original. It’s fluid, and even works with shop NPC’s.

Cool gimmick, so what makes it work so well? Because this type of remake has the dual benefit of denying you the ability to claim that the original was better, while still being able to layer on new personality and depth. Which Lizardcube does well though it’s labor of love, right down to the childhood pictures of the team at the date of the game’s original release in the credits (1989).

I was born in the 80’s so I’m in the prime nostalgia demographic. And if the targeting took a few cues from Wonder Boy, it would feel less vacuous than it normally does.

 

Father Gascoigne or Emotions in Videogames

This is a sad post. Sort-of.

As much as I love vidoegames, it’s comparatively rare for me that a game has the same emotional impact as cinema or literature. There are some exceptions, Spec Ops: The Line, was bizarrely tight in it’s descent into madness, and Thomas Was Alone, made me feel for simple shapes, but in general it’s hard for a game to nail the emotional side when there is so much else to do and focus on.

Look at that sad rectangle
A sad rectangle

The Souls games always were head of the class when it came to interjecting intricate easy-to-miss stories, but it’s Bloodborne that actually makes you care about them. However, there is one story that has stayed with me longer than the others, even though I finished the game nearly a three months ago: The story of Father Gascoigne.

There are about a million little bits than I can’t cover here from this single story or it would explode in size (the game is ridiculously detailed). But to give a quick overview: Early in the game you meet a little girl hiding in her home, she’s terrified and you offer to help her find her mother and father, which you eventually do. However, you find her father has lost his mind, her mother is dead (unclear if he was the cause, or this was the catalyst for his madness), and you’re forced to kill Gascoigne, her father. Without given away too much, from here, every action you take to rectify the decision continues a spiral of death and degradation.

A dream devouring itself
A dream devouring itself

The beautiful part is that all of this is missable. In fact it’s designed to be missed, but if you look hard enough, you can see the destruction and personal toll that this event has taken on a single family. It’s comparable to The Shinning, in that you watch a family not only tear apart, but also abandon and turn on the most delicate things that they should innately want to protect. There is something truly terrifying about that, and that is why Bloodborne is a masterpiece in storytelling.

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.

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.

Am I actually excited about the new GTA?

So they’ve released videos, one for each of the new characters, in GTAV (check it out at Edge:  http://www.edge-online.com/news/watch-the-new-gta-v-trailers-here/) I’m not usually a huge fan but I’ve been following GTAV more than any of the previous releases, if only because it seems like that last colossus swan-song for this generation of systems.  It almost boggles my mind how much money is being spent on this game while all the indications from the industry continue to nose dive.  I actually truly hope it succeeds if only to staunch some of the bleeding from the console industry.

Plus Michael and Franklin could be brilliant characters.  Especially Franklin.