Monday, July 9, 2018

Game Time - June 2018

Game: Yoku's Island Express
Developer: Villa Gorilla
Platform: Switch (Also out on Xbox, PS4, and PC)

Around the time Yoku's Island Express was released I began to hear a bunch of positive buzz. It was being described as a Metroid style exploration game, but with the odd addition of pinball. At first I didn't really understand how that could actually work, but after the first few minutes of play it becomes very apparent. It not only works, but works well in order to add a fresh gameplay style to a well tread type of game.

You start off as the dung beetle Yoku. He answered a call to replace a mysterious island's mail man. Naturally the old mail man was a pterodactyl, and he's fed up with his post (pun fully intended). You bump into him as you arrive on the island and are give the post master bag and told to be on your way to HQ where you can learn more about the job. At first it feels weird, because you can only move left or right while rolling a ball of dung. The pinball comes in by way of orange and blue flippers throughout the world. Pushing L will operate one color, while R does the other. You essentially just roll around until you see flippers, or fall into oddly contained pinball tables.

I'm nearing the end of the game, but it's not particularly long. It's not particularly challenging either. That's okay because it definitely requires some precision pinball shots and I am unbelievably bad at pinball even when it's virtual. Yoku's Island is an interesting mashup of gameplay styles, that is well complimented by its charming characters, world, and music. It's a really unique little product, and I'm glad stuff like this is coming out.

Game: Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition
Developer: Omega Force
Platform: Switch

There was a period of time where I tried to play it off like I ironically liked Dynasty Warriors games. I am willing to admit to you here, today, that I actually love Dynasty Warriors games with all my heart. I'm not ashamed anymore! Sometimes I just want to mash a button and cut down thousands of enemies with little to no effort as I zone out. There are the times where I want it to be Zelda themed. Initially I tried to hold off because I had already bought Hyrule Warriors on the Wii-U, but Fire Emblem Warriors was so disappointing that I just had to get something else to sate my desire for mindless action.

I didn't buy any of the DLC for the original release of the game, and then I refused to when they released a 3DS version with exclusive characters and content. Normally I wouldn't care that much except for the fact that the 3DS version ran like absolute garbage and I wasn't paying $40 for an inferior product. So now I'm over here with the Switch version and it has more content than I can possibly handle. The character roster has been increased exponentially and almost every character feels unique. The issue I had with Fire Emblem Warriors was that every character felt exactly the same. It was a man or woman with a sword, they just didn't do it for me. In this I can be all sorts of weird people. Tingle whacks people with a big bag of rupees and then smashes you with his butt. Skull kid poorly blows into the ocarina and flies around like a weirdo. They're all so unique, and I love it!

I'm going to be honest with you here though, there's never a whole lot to say. It's a Warriors game. You pick a character go into a battle, take over outposts, and collect loot. Most of this is done by mashing the light attack button while randomly throwing in strong attacks and supers. Hyrule Warriors doesn't really bring a whole lot of new gameplay to the table, it just has a ton of unique characters and an obscene amount of costumes, characters, and weapons to unlock. I would gladly recommend this to anyone with the caveat that it's just more Dynasty Warriors with a cool skin.

Game: Mario Tennis Aces
Developer: Camelot
Platform: Switch

I'm not the biggest sports fan, but something has always drawn me to the Mario sports games. I don't really consider go-karting to be a sport, so Mario Tennis on the N64 was the first one I remember playing. I never bought it, but I rented it a ton. It was simple enough to play, but difficult to master the elite level strategies. With each iteration they added more mechanics, and I ended up liking it less each time. So it's odd now that it's at it's most complex I'm more on board than I've ever been.

Aces adds a whole layer of complexity to Mario Tennis that I didn't even know I wanted. It's not just about returning the ball anymore. Now you have to worry about what type of shot you're using and what you're returning each shot with. There's actually a weapon triangle-like mechanic at play where certain shots beat certain shots and allow you to gain more meter. Yes, you heard correctly! This Mario Tennis game has meter just like a fighting game. With each hit you gain a bit of meter, and can use it to slow down time, hit powerful jump shots, or even use a super move. Slowing down time helps with returning difficult to reach shots, but also help you properly time the return of jump shots and super moves. Aces has added the possibility to win by KO. Shots that take meter to perform can cause damage to your racket, which will eventually make it shatter if you don't return them at the right time. When you run out of racket's it's game over for you!

Sounds like a lot to take in right? Well wait, there's more! The final addition that I cannot stand are trick shots. These are special long reach shots that you can perform by flicking the right stick in a direction towards a far away ball. If timed right your character will fly across the court and return almost anything. It makes volleys take forever. The issue I have is that there seems to be absolutely no risk to spamming trick shots like an idiot. You barely lose anything if you miss, and actually GAIN meter if you hit. Regardless, all of these mechanics have made it almost like a fighting game in terms of strategy. It's pretty cool, and I've been having a ton of fun playing with my friends. I have not really been having a ton of fun online though, because everyone trounces me. It's a bit of a bummer because once the short story mode is over the only thing you can really do is play people online. With that said though, I think that Aces is an excellent package that Nintendo seems like they will be supporting in a similar fashion as Splatoon 2. It's a ton of fun!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Podcast Episode 33 - E3 2018

The podcast returns and I talk about E3. I start off by giving my thoughts on the state of E3 and whether or not it's still necessary. I then turn my sights to the things I personally enjoyed.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Game Time - May 2018

Game: Yakuza 6
Developer: Sega
Platform: PS4

I finished Yakuza 6 a few days ago and can't stop thinking about the ending. The seven game saga of Kazuma Kiryu is finally over, and I don't really know how to feel. Personally the conclusion didn't really do it for me, but with a few small tweaks it would have. I don't want to talk in vagaries about an ending you may not have seen, so I won't. I'll just say that the ending was not as impactful as it could have been. However, the game as a whole was excellent. The journey was interesting, but a bit plodding. That tends to be par for the course with Yakuza.

My playthrough clocked in at right around 26 hours, which I cannot believe. I felt like I was playing for at least 50. So either the clock is just wrong, or the pacing really got to me. That's one thing that always bugs me in Yakuza games is that the pacing is all over the place. It meanders along to try and add dramatic effect. Sometimes it works, but other times it prolongs already obvious plot twists and story developments. I still don't really know if this is a cultural thing or just actual pacing issues.

I'm glad that the story of Kiryu is done now. Now Sega can focus on the upcoming remasters and then move onto a new protagonist. While I absolutely love Kiryu, I think it was his time to give up the spotlight. I can't wait to see where the franchise goes next. Over the course of 7 games they built up a lot of interesting characters and relationships so it will be interesting to see what they follow it up with.

Game: Pixel Junk Monsters 2
Developer: Q-Games
Platform: PS4 (Also out on Switch)

As sad as it is to say, I bought the original Pixel Junk Monsters because it was one of the first PS3 games with trophies in it. At first I was all about the trophies, but I ended up falling in love with the little tiki man and his quest to protect his home with towers. Now, I've never been a huge tower defense fan, but something about Pixel Junk Monsters still feels different to me. Perhaps it's the more active nature. Instead of just placing a tower and waiting for waves of monsters to attack you take part in the action directly. The little tiki man acts as your cursor. If he stands over a tower he will begin to dance and the tower will upgrade over time. On top of that when enemies die they drop coins and gems which you will need to build more towers, so you need to always be on the move.

Pixel Junk Monsters 2 works largely the same as the original. The tiki man is back again, and he still dances all over the towers. However, this time you don't get to see the whole map. Instead everything is zoomed in just enough to obscure parts of the path. At first it's annoying, but it encourages even more movement and action so I'm okay with it. In addition just moving around to collect currency and upgrade towers the little guy can throw bombs and do sweet body slams now.

My favorite part has to be the visuals. I am obsessed with stop motion animation, and that's what the game looks like. Everything has a clay look to it, and the animation is fairly stilted. The default camera is the same as it's always been, but you can now push R2 to zoom in behind the tiki mans back, but gives a fresh perspective on everything. That's when you can really check out the awesome new art style. I fully expected this to be an easy rehash of the original, but it brings new art, and concepts to an already robust product. I haven't played a whole lot yet, but I'm looking forward to checking out more of it.

Game: Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
Developer: Sega/ Media Vision
Platform: PS4

Back in 2008 when Valkyria Chronicles was released on the PS3 I got it as a Christmas gift. It's the kind of semi-real time strategy game I'd be way into, but back then I had a lot going on and just didn't find the time to play it much. By the time I got around to it, I just kept finding excuses to play new games instead. I let one of my friends borrow it, and they ended up beating it fairly quickly. They absolutely loved it and kept trying to get me into it. I have a very hard time going back to old games once their time in the sun has passed, and normally try to stick with new stuff. However, now with the looming release of Valkyria Chronicles 4 I found my gaming schedule free after beating Yakuza 6 and decided I should finally give the game a shot.

I stopped by Gamestop and picked up the remastered version for PS4, and I've been having a blast so far. I've always been a sucker for strategy games, so I feel right at home playing Valkyria Chronicles. It essentially functions like turn based strategy games like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, except with a little more direct input from the player. In battle you are given a set amount of medals, which allow you to move a character for each one you have. When you pick a character you are then put in direct control of them. They have a stamina bar, and can move until it is depleted. Like I said it's not too far off from most turn based strategy games, but the direct control of the moving and aiming adds a lot.

I've only done the first few missions, but I'm already farther than I got initially. The game is introducing new unit types and mechanics at a decent clip and I'm really digging it. So far the plot is relatively interesting, but I don't know if I'm fully invested yet. I'm sure I'll have more thoughts as I take the rest of June to try and finish it up.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Game Time - April 2018

Game: Ni No Kuni 2
Developer: Level-5
Platform: PS4

Ni No Kuni 2 is one of the first games in a long time that has made me feel like I'm crazy. It reviewed super positively, and pretty much everyone was singing its praises. I did beat it, but I didn't enjoy it very much. The combat never got much more exciting and it certainly never got any deeper. I was hoping that by the end of the game any of the characters would get worthwhile or meaningful development. That didn't come to pass either. It's weird, because on the surface it is a great game. It starts strong, and introduces tons of systems that seem interesting. However, like I said last month it's a jack of all trades, master of none scenario. There is a lot going on, but no one thing is focused on and almost all of it fell flat for me.

This isn't to say I think it's a bad game, I just don't understand the effusive praise and everyone treating it like it's the best thing to happen to JRPGs in a decade. It's fine. One of the things that I couldn't get over was just how easy it was. I saw all kinds of things online about people suggesting to use weaker characters, don't level, and pretty much don't use the tools available to you and it'll be a much more "fun" experience. I'm going to come right out and say that if your game is so easy that I have to actively try to handicap myself and not interact with all of its systems then it was poorly balanced. 

In the end Ni No Kuni 2 just didn't grab me like the original. To me it was noticeable that Studio Ghibli was no longer involved. The game borrowed the Ghibli style, but when it came to voice acting and animation it just didn't feel right to me. The original game built an interesting world that felt like there was a lot of thought put into it. This game flies through everything and TWO of the continents don't even have anything on them aside from monsters. I don't like being that guy that dunks on the thing everyone is happy about, but I just don't get the praise. It's fine.

Game: Yakuza 6
Developer: Sega
Platform: PS4

At this point I have played every Yakuza game except for Yakuza 2, and the non-canon Yakuza Dead Souls. So I know a thing or two about Kazuma Kiryu and his crazy antics. It's wild that all he ever wants to do is leave the Yakuza, but somehow he just gets roped back in over and over. Lucky for Kiryu, Yakuza 6 will bring his saga to a close. I have greatly enjoyed my time with it so far. 

Last year the excellent Yakuza 0 came out, which got a lot of people on board in the West. In my opinion this caused a few problems, mainly with the character of Goro Majima. He's essentially a different person in 0, but at the end they give context to how he acts for literally every other game in the franchise. I also feel like 0 does a poor job of making people like Kiryu, which is a shame because he is the protagonist of every other Yakuza game. However, the roughest part is that people will most likely have played Yazkua 0, and the remake of 1 and then jump right to 6. This sucks, because so far there have been a ton of callbacks and characters from the rest of the series. Hell, even some of the main characters from Yakuza 4 and 5 wouldn't even be known.

Yakuza 6 may also leave a bad first impression, because it's running on a different engine than every game prior to it. It's vastly improved, but as with all things moving over to a brand new engine it loses some of the complexity it had built over time. While Yakuza 0 and Kiwami introduced multiple fighting styles and a myriad of moves, Yakuza 6 only has one style and it plays more like a standard beat-em-up. There are a few moves to learn, but you can get away with mashing like an idiot. I really like Yakuza 6 so far, but I have a feeling that it may fall flat for people who weren't there for the rest of the series.

Game: God of War
Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio
Platform: PS4

I borrowed the first God of War from a friend around the time it came out, and got about halfway through before dropping it. The gratuitous violence felt unnecessary and I didn't find Kratos to be an interesting character. I tried again with God of War 2 and similarly dropped it. God of War just wasn't for me, but when Sony showed they were releasing a new God of War based around Norse mythology it piqued my interest. Something about Norse mythology has always interested me. 

I didn't really know what to expect of this game going in, but I ended up absolutely loving it. The combat was more fun to me, the violence was toned down a bit, and Kratos was actually an interesting character. It's been interesting to see video games grow up as a medium. A lot of the people who were there at the beginning have kids now and that's been showing up more and more in recent releases. The crux of the new plot is that Kratos moved far to the north after he killed the Greek pantheon and ended up having a child. The game opens shortly after his new wife's death where Kratos and his son Atreus are setting off to scatter her ashes from the tallest mountain in all the realms. It's a simple enough premise that quickly turns into a much more daunting task than it seems.

As is to be expected you're going to come into contact with all sorts of creatures and gods. This time around though the plot is less about murdering everything and more about Kratos and his son bonding. It becomes clear early on that Kratos wasn't around much and his son resents him for that. There is a lot of conversation and most of it is very well done. The combat is much more my speed too. It's a little more deliberate than the older games. Kratos now wields a magical ice ax that he can throw and recall at will. At first blush the combat seems simple, but as you learn more moves it gets quite a bit deeper. In the end I had dozens of moves, but only was using a handful I liked. It offers a lot of depth for those who are looking to use it, but you can get by with the basics if you need to. I absolutely loved this game, and am excited to see where the take the franchise next. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Game Time - March 2018

Note: I have been struggling to think of a new format for the monthly edition of game time, but I have finally settled on something. I'm tired of regurgitating story and gameplay descriptions. With that said the format won't change too much, but the text will be a lot more personal. I'm also going to try and do away with the intros and outros because I never knew what to say anyways. 

Game: DJMax Respect
Developer: Neowiz MUCA
Platform: PS4

The DJMax franchise has been around for quite a while, but only a handful have been released in the U.S. DJMax Respect is the first one to be released here since 2012 if you exclude mobile releases. What's cool about Respect is that it pays homage to all of the previous games in the franchise. The opening to the game is a spectacular animated scene that depicts all the previous DJMax games as grave stones that are being revived. Then to enter the game you need to press X to pay respect. It shows a love for the previous games in a way that I would never have expected.

This franchise can be notoriously difficult. Much to my dismay they even marketed it as "the Dark Souls of rhythm games." While I don't think it's impossibly hard it definitely has been giving me a hard time. Each song can be played with 4, 5, 6, or 8 buttons. As you'd imagine the songs get harder with more buttons, but I'm finding it fun to learn. I can do pretty well with 4 buttons, but 6 buttons is kicking my butt. Normally the repeated failures would make me frustrated, but I've persevered and am actually getting better. This game has given me skills that I can take over to other rhythm games too. I never really understood why people cranked up the speed of the notes in game, but it actually helps to space them out so you can see what's coming next. It's incredibly helpful, so now I try to play everything at 2X speed. At first it's really jarring, but now I can actually tell what buttons to push in super fast paced sections. 

It's really cool to see a developer make a product that shows a love for all the previous games in a franchise. At first I thought that Respect was just another one of their random subtitles like fever or Technica, but it's actually all about paying respect to the franchise. I am having an absolute blast with this game and will probably keep trying to get better at it. It's going to help when four DLC packs come out next Friday.

Videos: DJMax Respect - The Lowest Level Play
              DJMax Respect - Let's Get Good

Game: Ni No Kuni 2
Developer: Level-5
Platform: PS4

I absolutely loved the original Ni No Kuni. It came out at a time in my life when I could properly enjoy it because I was fresh out of college and didn't have a job. It left a lasting impression on me, so when the sequel was announced I got super excited. I'm currently playing through it right now and I think it's fun, but it's not blowing my mind like the original was.

Instead of the semi turn based combat of the original the sequel employs a much more action oriented system. It's more engaging in theory, but it ends up being too easy. I've seen people recommending to not use all of the tools at your disposal to make it more challenging, which is a ridiculous notion to me. I like being powerful, but at a certain point I'm just massacring enemies with reckless abandon. The part I'm digging the most is the kingdom building portion. The main character Evan was overthrown in the beginning so the entire crux of the story is that he's building a new kingdom called Evermore. You go around the game and recruit citizens to come and live with you. They have special abilities that take effect depending on what buildings you put them in. It's a cool system that gets a little bogged down by real time counters. Luckily the longest counter I've seen so far is 50 minutes, which flies by because there is so much to do.

What gets me about it so far is that I come to RPGs looking for an engaging story and well developed characters and so far Ni No Kuni 2 is not delivering that at all. So far it's moving at a lighting pace and none of the characters are really receiving any development. I love level-5 as a developer, but they have a real jack of all trades, master of none thing going on. They build huge games with tons of content, but no one thing stands out above the rest. They make such colorful and and fun games so it bums me out that they try to cram so many things into each one. I'm all for more content in games, but if it takes away from the quality of other content is it really worth it? Who knows, maybe I'll get to the end of this and feel differently, but right now I'm just having mindless fun.

Game: A Way Out
Developer: Hazelight Studios
Platform: PS4

The first game from Hazelight was Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons, which received critical acclaim. I never ended up playing it, but heard nothing but positive things about it. It was trying to tell an emotional story, which isn't always the easiest thing to do in video games. I first became aware of the studio's second game A Way Out at EA's E3 press conference this past year. However, I think most people became aware of it  during the game awards when the director Josef Fares got a little rowdy and started yelling "fuck the Oscars." I just finished A Way Out a few hours ago and it definitely wouldn't have won any Oscars.

I am still trying to fully process my feelings on this game. It's ambitious as hell, but it just doesn't work as intended. The entire game has to be played in co-op, so the game takes place entirely spit-screen. During certain scenes the screen real estate will change depending on which player has the more important thing going on. It's a cool effect, but it makes the actions of the other player seem meaningless. In fact, most of the actions feel kind of lifeless and meaningless. It starts out as a simple adventure game with the most basic button prompts, but by the end it's a poorly controller third person shooter.

It was a fun experience, but a lot of the game seemed to miss the mark. You can't have a super emotional game that's supposed to leave a lasting impact on the player with the quality of voice acting in the game. A lot of the line deliveries fall flat, and it's a huge bummer. It also doesn't help that it has a lot of goofy video game stuff in it. Janky looking walk animations are enough to take you right out of an "emotional" scene. It was around a six hour experience that I enjoyed while sitting next to a friend. I don't really know that it left a lasting impression, but I think that the kind of cinematic approach it was taking is admirable. It's cool, but don't playing it expecting some kind of life changing story.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Game Time - February 2018 - Monster Hunter World End Game

Note:In my attempt to think of a new format for the monthly edition of Game Time I completely forgot to write one up for February. One idea I had was to write something more in depth about my thoughts on a game as opposed to regurgitating what it is. So I'm going to try that now. Today I will be talking about the end game content of Monster Hunter World.

I want to preface this entire thing by saying that I absolutely love Monster Hunter World. Last time I checked I had put in 114 hours. That's a long time and sadly I think I'm about done until there are a bunch more content added to the game. So far Capcom has been doing a good job of cycling in event quests to help out with farming materials and occasionally adding new pieces of gear to the game. This past week the first major update came out, which finally added the Deviljho. It's a cool addition, because the Deviljho is a fan favorite, but it's just a single monster. I would much prefer huge content dumps to the few events and updates we are getting now.

The issue I'm facing is that there is no more reason for me to grind out materials and weapons. I personally have the best weapon I can be using, and the armor set I have is good enough for my play style. There are no more new monsters for me to see, so the only thing left for me to do is grind tempered monsters until the end of time. There really isn't a reason to though, because as I said there's nothing left to fight. In theory I think tempered monsters are cool. They're basically just more challenging versions of all the monsters in the game that drop special stones. These various types of stones can be used to augment weapons with special abilities. These range from having more defense to regaining health based on your damage. For a while I was content to grind these stones, but with no more real weapon or armor progression I quickly got bored.

Monsters are the main thing that kept me interested in the previous games. There just aren't enough Monsters for me in World. For example World has 30 monsters (31 with the Deviljho), while the game that got me into the series Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate had 51. 20 more Monsters might not seem like a lot, but it makes for a lot more variety. Personally I feel that World is lacking in monster variety in general. Recent games have added a ton of unique monsters, while a bunch of the monsters in World feel to similar for my taste. 

It's quite possible that I have been spoiled by the ultimate versions of these games in the past. I got used to having G rank difficulty monsters, so it feels weird that this game doesn't have them. The ultimate versions of these games had tons of monsters and content in general, but to be fair to World they were more like expansions. It's entirely possible that World will get a paid content update, or even an ultimate version of its own. G rank would add a new level of armor for each monster and the weapons would get even more added to their trees. It would bring back a reasonable sense of progression as opposed to the incremental progress that can be made now. 

What really bums me out is that the quality of life and engine improvements in World made it almost impossible for me to go back to the older games. World is an amazing base for the series going forward, and allowed for the franchise to take hold on a global level. I know there will be more games like this going forward and even new updates to World. While all of these things about the end game and lack of monster variety are bumming me out I understand why there isn't a ton more content. This is the first time in a very long time that the series has been on a home console and not the 3DS. They're remaking everything from the ground up, so it's going to take a bit of time for it to get to where I personally want it. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Podcast Episode 32 - Monster Hunter World

In this episode of the podcast I discuss what Monster Hunter World is all about and how I think it was able to succeed on a global scale.