Friday, August 18, 2017

Podcast Episode 28 - Pyre

In this episode I talk about Supergiant Games' newest release. Pyre is an interesting blend of a visual novel and a fantasy sports game. At first it sounds weird, but it comes together into a very unique gaming experience.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Game Time - July 2017

This past weekend I went on a trip for a close friend's bachelor party. We went white water rafting, which is a bit out of my element. Despite that, I had an absolute blast. However, I did end up getting quite a spectacular sunburn. Even my knees are burnt... I am here now fighting through the discomfort to tell you all about what I played in July!

I am here now to fight through the mild discomfort and let you know what I've been doing. It's game time!

Spaltoon 2

When Splatoon 2 was first unveiled I was both excited and disappointed. I enjoyed the original quite a bit, but 2 just looked to be more of the same. Sometimes this works out for games, but the reason I liked Splatoon so much was because it was a rare new IP from Nintendo. Even more rare was the fact that it reached ridiculous levels of popularity on a struggling console (The Wii-U).

Now that Sapltoon 2 is out I can say that my initial disappointment has faded. I can't lie, it is certainly more Splatoon. Thankfully there are enough new guns, maps, and modes to keep me interested. The core gameplay is still the same as the original. You are squid kid and you need to shoot your ink all over the stage. The team with the most ink in the stage at the end wins. It's a simple concept, but it works surprisingly well. Some old stages return, but there are a fair amount of new ones as well. The same goes for weapons. The new weapon I enjoy the most consists of two pistols, called the splat dualies. They let you move quickly, and roll out of the way of enemy attacks.

Everybody gets merced by the Splat Dualies.

As for modes, the single player is a bit more involved this time around. It's still a bit weird though, because there are a ton of mechanics introduced in it that are never seen anywhere else. The new mode I enjoy the most though is the co-op hoard mode called Salmon Run. You team up with three other players to shoot down a bunch of Salmon and collect their golden eggs. It starts off relatively easy, but as you rank up it gets incredibly difficult. The bummer is that for some ungodly reason it's not available all the time. I just don't think any game modes should be locked behind a timer. Despite odd design choices like that, Splatoon continues to be a shining example of how stylish and interesting Nintendo can be.

Pyre

Pyre is Supergiant's third release. They started off with the action game Bastion, and then moved onto the strategy game Transistor. As crazy as it is, Pyre is another genre. It mixes visual novel and weird fantasy basketball. Very rarely do studios change up the games they make after each iteration, which is one of the things I love about Supergiant. There are things that you can always count on though, like beautiful art, and a well developed world.

The game takes place in a purgatory-esque place known as the Downside. People who have wronged or broken the law in the civilization called the commonwealth are banished and forced to live out their remaining days in the downside. That is, until you as a reader arrive. You as the player were cast down, because you learned how to read. The ability to read is forbidden, and you were found out. A group of weary travelers finds you broken in the downside and takes you in. Upon finding out about your ability to read they ask you to read a tome for them, which starts you on your path to freedom.

The rites start off easy, but get much more challenging.

You participate in a series of trials called the rites, which is the main focus of the game. In each rite you control three characters, but only one can move at a time. You start near your "pyre" which is a large flame that acts as your goal. At the beginning a large celestial orb drops in the center, and the goal is to run it into the enemies pyre. When you have the orb all you can do is jump, but without it you have an aura that if it hits enemies will remove them from play for a few seconds. There are a myriad of rules, but after a few games it;s easy to figure out what's going on.

The reason you're doing the trials is to earn freedom. After prevailing enough times you'll be given the option to send one of your party members back to the Commonwealth. The choices drove me nuts. On the one hand I really liked some of the characters, but on the other you're sending them away so you can't use or interact with them anymore. On the other hand you can fail the rites as well, but the game continues on anyways. It's an interesting experience that requires a lot of reading to get through, but in my opinion it was well worth it!

Kingdom Hearts Final Mix

I've been wanting to replay the original Kingdom Hearts for a long time, but I'm only getting around to it now. I don't have a lot to play right now, and the reveal that Toy Story 3 will be in Kingdom Hearts 3 got me really fired up about the series in general. I think once I finish it I'll record a podcast for next month with my thoughts on it as a whole after a full replay. In my mind Kingdom Hearts is still my favorite of all the games in the franchise. Back when the original came out it was such an interesting idea to marry Final Fantasy and Disney together in a brand new universe. At that time it was a simple story of light vs. darkness that got a whole lot more convoluted as the series wore on.

The reason I wanted to replay it was to see if my memories of the game were accurate. I personally always liked the original game more than Kingdom Hearts 2. Whenever I say that to anyone they scoff and don't understand my reasoning. As I stated above the idea of the original game is very innocent, but it's more than that. I think the gameplay is more fun. Playing this HD version now I still believe that. Kingdom Hearts 2 did add a lot to the combat, but it also dumbed it down at the same time with reaction commands. As much as I liked hitting triangle to see Sora bust out some cool moves it made every fight way easier. Sure the combat in the original is a lot of mashing the attack button, but the more abilities you get the deeper the combat becomes.

The original is simple, but in a good way.

This trip down memory lane has been fun for me so far, but a few things make me want to scream. For starters the camera is not great. Even with the added ability in the HD version to manually control the camera it still gets stuck a whole lot. It often feels like the real fight is with the camera as opposed to the enemies. I get that though, the game is old. The thing I can't excuse is how terrible Donald and Goofy's AI is during fights. Yes, you can change their tendencies, but it doesn't help. I have Donald set to use offensive magic as little as possible. Somehow he still enters every fight and then blows all of his MP spamming gravity. For a while in the beginning the two of them would enter every battle and then immediately die. It was baffling. Now that I've leveled up a bunch it isn't that bad, but man is it every frustrating.

I have not finished yet, but I stand by my words. I think Kingdom Hearts is better than Kingdom Hearts 2.

Waiting for the end

Normally there are a few things throughout August that I want to play, but somehow this year all three of the games I want in August come out right at the end. The new Uncharted DLC comes out the 22nd, but both Mario X Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Yakuza Kiwami come out on the 29th. So I don't really know how next month's edition will work out. I guess I could go really hard on these new games for a few days, but I might just wait to talk about them until the following month. I have no idea, but I look forward to seeing you next time.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Game Time - June 2017

June seemed like it went on forever. Somehow I managed to play the three games I'm going to talk about and about 60 hours of Final Fantasy XIV. The new expansion dropped, so I decided to get back in on the MMO action. I'm having more fun than the last time I played, but we're not here to talk about that.

2017 is shaping up to be a big year for fighting games tons of stuff is coming out and I'm playing all of it. I bit the bullet and got ARMS on the Switch. I had to know what it was all about, and I'm glad I did. The concept is really cool, even if I don't like playing it very much. On the other hand I also got Tekken 7 and it rules. I don't think Tekken can be bad.

After all the fighting games I needed a change of pace and picked up Hollow Knight. I enjoyed the journey even though it was filled with sadness and despair.

It was an interesting month, so let's start talking about it. It's game time!

ARMS

I did and still really want to like ARMS. Every time Nintendo creates a new IP I feel obligated to try it out. While I do find the character designs to be charming, I don't particularly enjoy the combat. It's not necessarily bad, it just doesn't really do it for me. The concept of ARMS is pretty simple. One day people woke up and had stretchy arms. They thought it would be a good idea to fight with their new arms, so they made a tournament. So yeah, you might with your arms in ARMS...

The character designs in ARMS are really cool. 

When the game was revealed there was a large emphasis on motion controls, which is the way I personally prefer to play the game. To play you hold a joycon in each fist in a punching grip. To punch you thrust out the respective arm, or both of them to grab your opponent. Movement is controller entirely by tilting in the desired direction. Jumping and dashing are performed with the bumpers, which can feel a bit awkward when you're tilting to move. The motion controls don't always work as intended, but they work just well enough. Traditional controls can be used as well, but I didn't find them to be particularly great.

By nature ARMS isn't as crazy as most other fighting games. Due to the fact that you're slowly stretching out your limbs to hit opponents there aren't really any combos to be seen. This means that the game is almost all about movement. Patience pays off, and I am certainly not a patient person. What bums me out is that there isn't a lot of content in ARMS. Really the only thing I can do is fight the AI, or get absolutely decimated by people online. Nintendo came up with a bunch of really cool characters, but they have almost no story or development behind them. Thankfully Nintendo is taking the Splatoon approach and will be updating the game for free over the course of its lifespan. It' s an interesting game, I just don't know if it's worth it in its current state.

Hollow Knight

When I first saw a screenshot of Hollow Knight I didn't find it interesting. However, after seeing it in motion I suddenly understood what it was all about. It has a stop-motion quality to it that I now can't get enough of. I wanted to wait and get it for the Switch, but the development of that version seems like it will be a little while longer.

Hollow Knight is a metroidvania style game where you play as a little bug dude with a nail. Your goal is to explore the ruins of a forgotten underground kingdom. Gameplay is relatively simple at first blush. You jump around and swing your nail at enemies. As you beat bosses more and more abilities are added to your arsenal until you are an unstoppable bug killing machine. The basics of combat are simple, but precise timing is often required of you. If you get injured in combat you can focus the stolen souls of your enemies to slowly regain health. This means that even though combat can be tough, it's not impossible to recover from most situations.

It's like you're playing a sad painting!

The atmosphere in Hollow Knight is universally bleak. You're exploring a defunct kingdom filled with sadness and death. Everything is drab and dismal, but in a way that I really appreciated. The color palette, music, and art all fuse together to make something that's appropriately depressing, but also interesting to explore. I really enjoyed my time with the game, even if it felt a little too difficult in spots. I also could have done without the Dark Souls-like mechanic where you have to run back to your body upon death. However, things like the simple yet-rewarding combat kept me interest throughout. I may even give the game a second go when it finally does release on the Switch.

Tekken 7

I really like Tekken as a franchise and Tekken 7 is no exception. The combat I've come to know and love is back again. Characters still have a billion moves each, there's a bunch of juggle combos, and the walls are super deadly. It's Tekken, but this time there's a cinematic story mode.

Everyone's favorite Tekken character the volcano returns!

When I first completed the story I left off with positive thoughts, but after some time to reflect I don't think it was that great. Yes, it has all the elements you'd want in a Tekken "story" like people being thrown into volcanoes and turning into devils, but it just didn't go as far as it could have. For starters a ton of new characters are introduced in this game and only three of them are even IN the story. What's up with Lucky Chole, and Shaheen? Who knows, because they're certainly not in the story. What really drives me up a wall is the narrator. He's a reporter who is trying to tie together all the random CG scenes as you play through them. His voice actor sounds like a robot. Every line is delivered as flat as possible. So you're getting all hyped up as you see people get punched through walls, but then you transition into a man talking super slowly with no emotion. It's a jarring transition that never works.

However, I will say that Tekken 7 still rules. Fighting in Tekken always makes me feel good. It's cool because beginners can play and have fun, but the level of depth in Tekken is nuts. I'll never be truly good at Tekken, but I'll at least have fun messing around with each character. The new additions to the cast are all fairly unique, which is always nice to see. I'm always down to play more Tekken.

Splatoon?

The summer lull is finally upon us. The only full retail product I will be purchasing is Splatoon 2 on the Switch. I'm eager to play new stuff on it, so that's cool. I'm just worried it won't be different enough from the original to justify its existence.

Supergiant Games new release Pyre is coming out as well and I'm pretty excited about that. It's like some weird NBA Jam and RPG hybrid. At this point I will play whatever the studio puts out.

Other than that I'm going to keep picking away at FFXIV. I completed the base game and am now moving into the first expansion. It's a lot more fun when its not just a series of bad fetch quests. We'll see how long my enthusiasm for it keeps up.

That's all I've got for now. I'll see you all next time!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Podcast Episode 27 - E3 2017

Everyone's favorite video game expo has come and gone once again. Tune in to the podcast so you can hear all about what made me get excited and or very upset!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Game Time - May 2017

I played three very different games in May. I started off with the rhythm game Deemo, then moved onto everyone's favorite existentialist robot game Nier: Automata and finished with the super hero fighting game Injustice 2. 2017 is a weird year.

Deemo: The Last Recital

I love rhythm games and that's exactly what Deemo is. Somehow I found myself reading a list of what a totally random website considered the best Rhythm games of all time. To my surprise a phone game made the list, so I had to check it out. After a bit of research I found out it was coming out on the Vita as well. I played both versions, but actually prefer the phone version quite a bit.

Deemo is a touch screen only game, which is why phones have an advantage over the Vita. A line sits at the bottom of the screen as piano keys fly towards it. When the keys meet the line you need to touch them. On higher difficulties tons of notes are flying at you at a time, so the better touch functionality of my cell phone makes me prefer it. The Vita is fine, but it's a bit too big to reach all the parts of the screen at the same time. It's also not as responsive as I'd like it to be. The touch screen isn't the only difference between the two versions though.

You need to hit the notes when they reach the line on the bottom.

The plot of Deemo is that a little girl wakes up and finds herself trapped in an underground area with a weird emotionless demon guy. The demon guy, Deemo is pretty good at the piano. When he plays a tree grows, so the goal is to make the tree grow so that the little girl can escape. It's weird because the songs aren't scored. The way to make the tree grow is complete a song for the first time on a difficulty, or full combo songs. As you progress the phone game has odd scenes with still images, while the Vita version has beautiful animated cutscenes. The Vita version costs $15, while the phone version is initially free, but then two dollars if you want to remove ads, and then another $10 for a while new scenario that the Vita version doesn't have. It's a cool game that I don't think many people are aware of.

Nier: Automata

Sometimes I feel like I'm one of the only people on the planet who played the original Nier. The fact that it got a sequel continues to baffle me. At first I was apprehensive, because while the original Nier was pretty rough it still holds a special place in my heart. It was kind of broken, and the combat was really rough, but it had memorable characters and tried to switch through so many genres I really liked it. It felt ambitious, which I really admired. Luckily Automata is just as ambitious, and just as weird. Yes, Automata plays a whole lot better, but it's still not anything stellar.

You need to kill all the machines!

So what is Nier: Automata you ask? Well it's a game about Robots who are fighting machines created by aliens on earth. Aliens drove humans to the moon, but the humans created an army of androids called YORHA to take back earth. Initially you play as 2B, who is a female combat unit. You have a sick sword and you kill a lot of robots in stylish, but mashy combat. It's not anything special, but it's engaging enough to keep you invested.

The real draw to Automata is the story. The game's director Yoko Taro is very weird, and that's reflected in the game. If you're interested in stories that are very into existentialism and asking whether or not machines can learn, then this game is going to be your jam.

Injustice 2

I have a weird relationship with games made by NetherRealm Studios. As a kid I was never super in love with Mortal Kombat, but I would play it from time to time. I got back into their games around Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe on the PS3. That's what I consider to be the new era of their games. Solid fighting games with a ton of solid single player content. When it comes to cinematic fighting game stories they have yet to be outdone. The problem is that I rarely have a lot of fun fighting. That's a bummer when the fighting is basically the entire game...

Get ready to beat up all kinds of DC characters for the second time!

The quality of Injustice 2 is ridiculous. The character models look great, especially when compared to the original game. It has a crazy amount of fan service for DC fans. If you're down for some super heroes beating the hell out of each other, then you'll probably enjoy Injustice. The story takes about four hours and lets you get a good sense of the mechanics and a handful of the characters. Outside of the story mode is where the game's true hook comes in. This time around you can open loot boxes to get sweet loot. The loot can then be equipped to your characters to give them different looks and abilities. It's an interesting concept that's turned off in competitive play, but it keeps me coming back to the game when I otherwise wouldn't.

The problem I tend to have with this studio's games is that I like them until I play against another human. I'm not the best fighting game player, but these games frustrate me like no other. I don't really know why, but I just can't grasp a lot of the systems in play. So I dominate the AI, but as soon as I play a real person I got stomped into the ground. This time around there's enough single player content that I don't feel like I need to try and take my skills online. This game is actually packed to the brim with content, and I'd actually recommend it to people who aren't looking to enter the competitive scene.

E3!

As with every year I am looking forward to E3. This year is going to be very interesting, because Nintendo has to prove that the Switch has a lot of stuff coming in the future, and Microsoft needs to sell the world on the Scorpio. Maybe Nintendo will announce their plans for the Virtual console on Switch. There are a lot of things I want to happen, but I'll just have to wait and see. I'll be back next month to tell you all about my favorite parts of the Electronic Entertainment Expo!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Game Time - April 2017

For the first few months of the year I tried to focus on playing one game at a time. Everything was going well, but then 2017 showed me that it had no intention of slowing down. Tons of good games are coming out at a rapid pace and now I have buried myself alive in video games. Right now I have started six different games, and finished none of them. Now I don't really know what to do. A few of them I'm not particularly fond of, but I find myself not wanting to really drop anything. It's quite the dilemma.

Today I am here to tell you about two of those six games, and one of the rare few games I have actually finished this year. Surprisingly it was a 96 hour journey that I managed to finish...

Other than spending a ludicrous amount of time on Persona I played a little bit of Flinthook and Yooka-Laylee as well. 

Flinthook

I feel like I've been seeing GIFs of Flinthook forever, but it only just came out a few weeks ago. It's a rogue-like in which you play as a little pirate man with a grappling hook. You run around pirate ships in space and shoot a ton of enemies. It's a very familiar game, except that you can use a sweet grappling hook. This is the "hook" of the game. The ships are split up into rooms, and each room is filled up with a bunch of grappling points. It's hard to describe, but the grappling hook is just straight up fun to use. It feels good to hook onto things. Everything is so fluid, and just feels right. I often find myself getting into a flow of grappling around and shooting.

Grappling hooks have never felt this good!

Like most modern rogue-likes you gain things that carry over after each run. In this you level up and get booster packs. Instead of cards they net you a bunch of powerups that you can equip to help you out. It works very well to keep you going. The powerups help, but so far I haven't found anything that negates the fact that you need to be good at the game. Like most games of this style it is quite difficult, but that's what makes them appealing to most people.

Yooka-Laylee

As a kid I was a big fan of Banjo-Kazooie. It's one of the few demos I remember playing as a kid at Target and being absolutely blown away. I managed to play through most of it again within recent years with the release of the Rare Replay Collection on the Xbox One. It's a whimsical platformer where you control the animal duo of Banjo the Bear and Kazooie the Bird. They worked in tandem to do cool moves and collect a whole lot of stuff. In recent years games like Banjo-Kazooie have become known as collect-athon games. It's an apt title, because you're really just collecting a whole bunch of stuff. In the years following the games release many other people partook in the genre, but it eventually faded out. However, now here we are many years later with a new one called Yooka-Laylee.

It sure looks a lot like Banjo-Kazooie...

If you're thinking that Yooka-Laylee looks and sounds similar to Banjo-Kazooie, you're absolutely right. Some of the original developers who worked at Rare on the original Banjo got together to make their own studio called Playtonic games. Their goal was to make a new collect-athon game in the vein of Banjo. They took to Kickstarter and the game was funded. It's out now and they certainly delivered on their promise of a Banjo-like game, but I'm personally not feeling it. It's one thing to pay homage to something you love, but it's another thing entirely to try and literally be what you love. Yooka-Laylee is trying to be Banjo-Kazooie in almost every way, but the downside is that it's not as good.

I don't want to say that our new Chameleon and Bat combo aren't fun to play as, but they're just not as fun as the Bear and Bird duo of yesteryear. It's a bummer, because I often find myself frustrated in this new game. The camera isn't great, the controls aren't tight enough, and the level design is so open that I often get lost. It's a game trying to be Banjo-Kazooie, but I feel like it doesn't have the same charm. I played Banjo within the past year and it still made me feel good. This game does not. It certainly delivered on its premise of being a new game in the collect-athon pantheon, but it's just not doing it for me at all.

Persona 5

Turn based RPGs are my jam, and it's not so often that they come around anymore. It's even more rare that they have a huge budget to work with, but that's what we got with Persona 5. Originally the game was slated for a Winter 2014 release in Japan, but a shift to the PS4 caused quite a few delays. Normally excessive delays cause me to worry, but with Persona I knew that I would be happy with the final product regardless of how long it took. This was one of the rare cases where I saw the original trailer and instantly knew that I was getting exactly what I wanted. I waited patiently until April 4th, and then pretty much just played the game for 96 hours. Sure, that was over the course of three weeks, but I did little else with my time. My takeaway from my time with Persona 5 is that I absolutely love it.

This game has a ridiculous amount of style.

The Persona series started as a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series. It focused on high school kids who were given the ability to summon their true selves from within, otherwise known as Personas. With that power they took on evil demons and saved the world. It was a traditional turn based RPG, but in the third game it morphed into something a little more. It was still a turn based game, but it added in social elements as well. This formula carried over to Persona 4 and 5 as well. Now you go into dungeons and fight monsters, but afterwards you can hang out with your friends and get to know them on a much deeper level. On the surface it sounds simple, but the game revolves around you doing a multitude of different tasks while on a time constraint. There's only so much you can do in a day, so you have to choose how you spend your time very wisely. It's stressful at first, but very rewarding in the end.

Persona 5 focuses once again on a group of high school students, but this time they're a group of thieves. They call themselves the Phantom Thieves, and their goal is to steal the twisted desires of adults and make them atone for their crimes. They do this by using a special phone app to enter a person's mind, where they will steal their most prized treasure. It's definitely a weird concept, but one that the Persona team pulls off with a ridiculous amount of style. Persona is known for its stylish nature, but Persona 5 takes that style to a whole new level. If you're interested in hearing a bit more about my time with Persona, then you'll want to check out this month's podcast, which you can find here.

2B or not 2B

Instead of digging into my stupidly large backlog I decided to start Nier: Automata. So now I am playing through that and having a blast. Having played the original Nier I kind of knew what to expect, but man is Automata a weird game. The director Yoko Taro somehow manages to out crazy himself with this one. Also you have to play through it like five times to see the whole story, which is extra insane.

Lucky for me the only new game I'll be getting in May is Injustice 2, so maybe I can catch up on my backlog. So next month I'll definitely talk about Nier, and Injustice 2. See you then!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Podcast Episode 26 - Persona 5

After taking a month off from Podcasting I have returned to bring you this episode about Persona 5. This is a game I've been looking forward to for years, and I have quite a bit to say about it!