Friday, September 22, 2017

Podcast Episode 29 - Kingdom Hearts

After 15 years I return to Kingdom Hearts to see if I still like it as much as I used to. As much as I like to dunk on the series now, I still love it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Game Time - August 2017

Despite the fact that games were coming out, I took the time to finish my playthrough of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. I did almost everything there was to do, and it took about 50 hours. Sometime in the near future I will be recording the August podcast about the experience. Let's just say that the game aged a lot better than I would have thought.

Outside of HD re-releases of PS2 games I played a ton of new stuff too. Sonic Mania, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and Mario + Rabbids are all excellent games in their own ways. I didn't expect to like any of them as much as I did. Let me tell you why. It's game time!

Sonic Mania

It's crazy to think that Sega was once going head to head with Nintendo in the console market. The lovable plumber Mario was going up against the speedy blue hedgehog Sonic. Back then, Sonic was considered by many to be a great game. In fact, many people still hold the Sonic games on the Sega Genesis in high regard. It is the popular belief that Sonic lost its way when the series transitioned to 3D. I personally don't agree with that because Sonic Adventure 2 is my favorite Sonic game. However, even I can agree that the series took a turn for the terrible during the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox era. Sonic has been in a rut for years and Sega has largely been at a loss as to how to turn the franchise around. After years of failing to capture the Sonic nostalgia people crave Sonic Mania came along and changed everything.

Gotta go fast!

As someone who didn't own a Sega Genesis I don't have a huge amount of nostalgia for Sonic 1-3 like a lot of people do. Even without that I think Sonic Mania is brilliant on many levels. For starters it feels exactly like the Sega Genesis games of old. On top of that it combines classic stages with new and interesting mechanics. It's baffling that in 2017 I'm excited to play and talk about a Sonic game. Fans of the franchise have been burned so many times, but are finally being rewarded. Sega did the right thing by hiring the creators of Sonic fan games to make an official game. The movement and speed are top notch, and the music is superb. I can't praise it enough.

There was a period before Sonic Mania released where I began to question whether the old Sonic games were ever really good, or if they were just the best that Sega had to offer in the early to mid 90's. Sonic Mania quickly put my suspicions to rest, and actually reinforced how good the games were back then. The stages are huge and filled with a multitude of paths that most other platformers just don't have. It's nice to see a Sonic game both capitalize on nostalgia while trying to keep things fresh. If it was just a trip down nostalgia lane I wouldn't be nearly as impressed.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Naughty Dog as a developer continues to baffle me. I thought that I was done with the Uncharted franchise after the 3rd game. It seemed played out, and had a decent enough ending. Then 4 came out and blew me away. The game ended in such a conclusive way that I thought we'd never see anything from the Uncharted franchise ever again. Hell, they even announced they were making The Last of Us 2. Yet, here I am about to tell you about the Lost Legacy. It's my understanding that it started off as a shorter downloadable experience, but the team had so much fun working on it that it morphed into a full game similar in length to the original Uncharted.

The Lost Legacy follows Chole, the smooth talking Australian thief from Uncharted 2. I always found her to be one of the more interesting characters that didn't get a whole lot of screen time. She's in India trying to find the Tusk of Ganesh. As with all Uncharted games she has a sidekick, and it just so happens to be Nadine Ross one of the main antagonists of Uncharted 4. At first they're at each other's throats, but as time goes on they get to know each other. It's an interesting dynamic that makes for a lot of interesting banter between the two.

Chole and Nadine murder just as well as Nathan Drake.

At its core it's just another Uncharted game, which I thought I'd be sick of at this point. However, I enjoyed it from start to finish. Sure the climbing and shooting can get a little tired, but the character interactions and set-pieces are always top notch. If anything the Lost Legacy proves that Uncharted can be about things other than Nathan Drake. If they decided to continue the series and follow different characters 8 to 10 hour adventures I'd definitely be along for the ride.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

I want to start off by saying that I've never liked the Rabbids. When they first appeared under the guise of a Rayman title on the Wii I immediately disliked them. Weird, dumb, screaming rabbits just aren't for me. To be fair, they weren't supposed to be. They're geared towards kids. So when Ubisoft announced that they were actually making the long rumored Rabbids + Mario crossover for the Switch I was blown away. I was even more shocked that the game looked good, and I can confirm now that it is actually good. It's really good...

Mario now was a gun. That will never not be weird.

Normally Nintendo doesn't let anyone touch their intellectual property with a ten foot pole, so it's crazy to see what Ubisoft got away with. Mario and pals were given guns and turned loose into a strategy RPG similar to XCOM. It's not nearly as difficult, but it has similar mechanics and ideas. Everyone moves along a grid. can hide behind cover, and shoot. At first it all seems a little too basic, but once abilities and upgrades are introduced it can get pretty tough. The main thing separating it from XCOM is how the movement mechanics work. Mario and friends can dash through enemies to do damage, and jump off of their friends to trigger special effects and move further.

I've been having a lot of fun with the game so far, and it's even making me like Rabbids a little more. While I still think that they're not funny, I no longer get upset when they're on screen. In fact I think Rabbid Luigi is the best character in the game. His dash attacks do a ton of damage and steal health from enemies! Rabbids crossing over with Mario is not something I ever would have imagined, but somehow it works. Hopefully the general positive reception of the game makes Nintendo consider other collaborations and genres to enter the portly plumber into.

The Season is Upon Us

In years past the release of Madden in late August would signal a deluge of Fall video game releases. While that is still the case, game releases never really "dry up" anymore. However, I would say that the Fall is still prime time for Blockbuster releases specifically. For me personally September is a bit odd, because there are games coming out at the beginning and the end of the month. Nothing is really happening in Between.

The more obscure Monster Hunter Stories is going to be delivered tomorrow. Why Capcom decided to make a cute Monster Hunter RPG is beyond me, but I enjoyed the demo so I'll give it a shot. Then I pretty much have no interest in anything until Danganronpa V3 drops on the 26th, and then Cuphead a few days later on the 29th. There may be some other indie releases I pick up, but nothing comes to mind currently.

I'm kind of glad that I'll have a large gap between releases, because I'm a bit behind at the moment. Next time I write one of these I'll hopefully have played a whole lot of video games.


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!