Gargoyle’s Quest Review

Title:  Gargoyle’s Quest
Maker:   Capcom
Publisher: Armor Games
Platform: Gameboy
Cost: $3.99 (on Nintendo eShop)

AKA, the “Nonexistent Difficulty Curve” 

I’ve wanted to play Gargoyle’s Quest ever since I found the Nintendo power card with Firebrand (Red Arremer if you’re a stickler) on the front of it. Described to me as mix between an RPG and an Adventure game, it seemed to straddle that “Zelda 2” spectrum of early Ninentdo games. And while you do walk around in an overview, and there’s a few command prompts, it’s really an action game through and through.

Not sure why he's Green in this one...

Not sure why he’s Green in this one…

I loved my first gameboy. It was my first videogame system, and I literally played it until it died. But even as a child I knew the controls weren’t the most responsive thing in the world.  There’s a button-input delay, but I didn’t care.  And usually it worked out alright, because most games worked around it. When making Gargoyle’s Quest, they either didn’t realize this or didn’t care.  It requires pin point precision in parts that can be absolutely infuriating.  This means that in classic Ghost & Goblins tradition, the first tower is ridiculously hard.  It wouldn’t surprise me if three quarters of the players dropped right there.
This fucking level

This fucking level

However, despite this early difficulty spike, the game becomes significantly more enjoyable as Red’s abilities start to increase. For example, the hover ability at the beginning is more a hindrance than a help.  However, later on you can float in place and pick off enemies one by one.  Play towards the end gives that same feeling as a powered up Mega Man X with a bunch of E-Tanks in reserve.  In fact, most of the abilities in the game: floating, clinging to walls, power-ups, are prescient of what would become staples in later Capcom classics.

So in the end, alls well that ends well.

Review: 3 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  It’s the only game I can remember that doesn’t provide development credits at the end


Infinity Blade 2 Review

Title:  Infinity Blade 2

Maker:   Chair Entertainment and Epic Games
Platform: iOS
Cost: Free from iOS Anniversary (Normally $6.99)

Faded in the Rinse and Repeat

I had fun playing the first Infinity Blade.  There were a lot of flaws but it wore them on its sleeve.  Repetition was necessary because you’re immortal… ah, clever.  And the controls for battles were simple yet effective, at a time when it seemed like only endless runners had made an effective use of the touch-screen.  Even the story, which was still needlessly complex, worked out ok because it was so understated.  A few lines here or there, odd reveals abound, and you’re left with something that your mind could fill in.

Infinity Blade 2 is none of those things.  Err I take that back, it’s all of those things, which is why it’s disappointing.  It’s the same graphics, the same mechanics, just more of it.  The first games graphics were impressive because of when it was released and the unique art design.  The second is a complete recycle of these.  The dialogue that was enjoyable in small doses becomes schlock in long monologues.  It’s only after people keep talking that you realize how little you care about any of the characters.  If they had kept their mouths shut maybe they could have fooled me.  What is perhaps the most unforgivable is that low-hanging fruit like rebalancing the magic system, and improving the grinding level system, remain bizarrely untouched.

One of the few new environments.  But it comes and goes quickly.

A few new environments. A brief detour as most takes place in the same enlarged castle.

The battles are still fun, if growing tired (again recycled), and the secrets that reveal themselves on multiple play-throughs remains an incredibly fresh mechanic that is executed on a high level.   Murdering giant secret bosses was literally the only thing that kept me coming back after the short story runs to completion.  In the end, it’s a incredibly safe game that’s unable to realize why the first was such a success.

Review: 2 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  Accidentally stumbling on a secret boss early and being decimated in seconds.


Dark Souls 2, Days 4-6

Day 4

The stat bonuses are completely revamped. Only just realized that. It still is probably the case that upgraded weapons outperform the “unique” ones, but now the stat bonuses from intellegence, and faith, boost specific elemental damage (ie, magic and lightining damage respectively) , and share on others (fire and dark). It’s an interesting concept, as it presents the possibility of doing something different than a intelligence stacking katana (my final weapons of choice in the first two).

The boss battles are decidedly less epic. They’re still a solid challenge, but many of the bosses lack the grand scale of the original games. The levels do a better job of providing enjoyment, so it’s hard to be mad. The regular enemy cannon fodder (which is a terrible word because they can still be deadly) seems to have shifted to groups. Survival is now a matter of crowd control, isolating members and picking them off slowly. You always had to worry about multiple enemies in the previous games, but now they aggro together, which means 6 small knights chasing after you isn’t an uncommon occurrence.

One of the easier bosses in the series..

One of the easier and less grand bosses of the series..

Day 5

A long break, and I’m concerned with how easy I can come back to the game. Enemies don’t continually respawn, and there’s an erie quiet as you travel through an area that was once full. In a way it’s a sense of progress, and a marker for the places you’ve traversed many times before. It serves as a useful flag after a break, making reentrance much easier.

Shortly after a boss fight my first phantom invasion occurs. I last awhile, but they know what they’re doing, and when I leave an opening they have enough stamina to end me. It mentions the word “Grey” spirit, that’s something new. He does what I think is a surfs up sign over my corpse. Weirdly it makes the costly murder easier to swallow.

The covenants are similar but better this time around.  I learn the “Bell Keepers” are the grey phantoms.  They invade when you enter a certain territory.  This existed in the Nottingham-esque forest of  DS1 as well.  The problem with the forest in DS1, was the area was too large, and you had to hunt them down before the action began.  Here it’s a simple goal, kill the player before they march up the small tower to the boss. Clever idea, probably my favorite covenant ever because of its simplicity.

One of the inferior things this time around are the actual worlds. DS1 had clearly delimitated worlds, each one unique. Sure, it was a bitch to get around, but you always knew where you were. It’s not the case this time, the aesthetics of each world bleeds into the other, the only thing providing clarity is the menu for fast travel at the bonfire.  I realize this after clearing the Bastille, as the Belfry and Sinner’s, are essentially the same thing.

You'll see a lot of this environment

You’ll see a lot of this environment

Day 6

There are a lot more secrets, hidden paths and treasure chests, in DS2. Where as I used to blow past player notes, I become accustomed to reading every player note I come across. I even end up leaving a few. I’m progressing relatively easily, which leads me to believe I’m about to run into a sharp difficulty spike.

Shortly after writing the last paragraph, I drain all of my humanity dying over and over on the same boss. Beginner’s luck the first time, I leave him with a sliver of life when I die. I’m so frustrated, I’m quickly destroyed the next 3 times due to a lack of patience.  I’m out of humanity, so I back track. Trying to find paths I overlooked before. 2000 souls open a path to a “copse”, which seems like they’re searching for nouns. The enemies are easy but I die 10 times on a jump before I realize I can press R1 to prevent myself from rolling off the landing. There must be a thousand people who have gone though the same thing. A quick google search and there’s huge threads of people bitching about the landing.


Dark Souls 2, Days 1-3

Day 1
I’ll keep this travel log spoiler free as best I can, and instead discuss the ebb and flow of a game whose earlier entries I’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount.

My biggest complaint from the first two games, is how beautiful the world was created, while the story was left undeveloped. This is especially true for the DS1, which leaves an insane amount on the table. In DS2, the opening scene is phenomenal, and I watch it several times as I let the controller charge (and because I like the mood it puts me in).

Dark-Souls2_opening

Alone and forgotten, you need to choose a character. This is usually one of the most enjoyable parts of any game for me. In DS2 you have a number of choices, all with a decent amount of experience under their belts. Except for the last, the depraved, soul level 1 (the second lowest is 10), nothing equipped. But I like he description- “Has nothing to fight with, except life-affirming flesh.”  I pick the Depraved, because if you’re going to play a game known for its difficulty, you might as well do it right.

Unknowingly I skip the practice area, which when I finally go back and play it, gives me a weapon (a dagger). But for the first hour or so I’m punching and fleeing from most enemies. I also appreciate how the series will give you access to monster at the beginning that can instantly kill you. This training area is no different, and after I go down I think to myself, “Ah, I should know better!”
Things_Betwixt

At the bottom level, and with a low damage dagger, I have to spam the beginning level a bit. If the last two games have taught me anything, you dump your souls into endurance so the first soul level choices are cut and paste. It is nice to see that the feel of the previous two games has translated well, and I can dance around avoiding damage pretty well. Nothing’s changed, and hours run by quicker than I can remember.

Day 2

Even though most of its familiar (the gradual progression from bonfire-to-bonfire, descending platforms, alternative paths), when I wake up the next day, I’m generally excited to keep playing. I found the beginning world of dark souls disappointing, and all the backtracking grates, and while many people will cry foul with the instant traveling between bonfires, it seems like a perfect alternative to the constant sprinting between already traveled areas.

Forest of Fallen Giants 2

I finally figure out how to light a torch halfway through the first area, not that I’ve realized the value of it yet. It was more the fact that all the unlit pyres were starting worry me. At the boss I’m killed quickly. He’s harder than the first boss in the previous two entries, and  I realize I’m underleveled.  My play style is shield-and-sword, but I’ve avoided putting points in strength, because I had the urge to go for a dex build. But either I need to learn how to parry, or give up the ghost, and just accept the way I actually play.

Day 3

I push if off and decide not to make a decision about the strength vs dex and just keep dumping points into endurance and vitality. The first boss goes down but it takes a couple tries, and a NPC controlled summon. You can fly through the game by summoning live players, but I always felt guilty when I did it in the first Dark Souls.  I would always wind up forcing myself to play without the aid the second time around.
You can stumble on this guy early.  And it's a quick battle when you do.

You can stumble on this guy early. And it’s a quick battle when you do.

There’s significantly less linersity this time around. Bosses come almost immediately when entering areas, so that everytime you enter a fog you run the risk of immediate death. Thanks to fast travel, you can also slowly work your way through multiple areas. Stopping with one, and picking up where the other left off.  You tackle things in bits and pieces. In many ways, the progression has more in common with Demon’s Souls than Dark Souls- skip from world to world, eventually coming back to progress in the ones where you started

Review – Kingdom Rush Frontiers

Title:  Kingdom Rush Frontiers
Maker:   Ironhide Game Studio
Publisher: Armor Games
Platform: iOS
Cost: $1

Probably what freemium should be

At 99 cents, Frontiers technically isn’t a freemium game, but that extra dollar provides so much value over the average shovelware garbage that’s capsizing the app store, that it’s hard to not advocate for it.  That’s not to say the game is perfect, because it’s far from even being great.  What that dollar gives you is a reasonable difficulty curve, normal cool-down periods, and completely optional in-app purchases.  This provides a game that helps kill time as you calmly wait in a doctors office before jamming the keys into the ignition to race back to work afterwards.

It's not beautiful, but there's a few surprises

It’s not beautiful, but it has a few surprises

Oh right, and it’s a tower defense.  No surprises, it’s simply one that’s better than most, but probably not better than Pixeljunk’s.

Review: 3 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  Turn the sound off


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