Posts tagged ‘reviews’

Muramasa Rebirth – Story of Monohime

What Muramasa primarily does is prove wandering through art works is heavenly. Like that Kurosawa film Dreams where the characters walk into Van Gogh paintings

Muramasa is all about Detail and situations. It is full of visual logics culled from antiquity that captivate. George Katimana’s illustrations have always shown a love of Japanese classical painting, but Muramasa, which was inspired by the famicom game legend of Kage

Allows a realization of locomotion through a medium we usually experience in stillness.

But I would argue that part of what makes Japanese painting remarkable is the sense of movement it in stills. Every leaf jumped over, every tree climbed,and every Legend of Kage style floaty jump is a sensory experience in how sight can overwhelm sensation. Muramasa, like most of Vanillaware’s games, is an exercise in the peculiar interaction between avatar, world, and desire. It is a great lesson in how and why graphics are important. Even the color of the Ninjas uniforms (which really do make them nigh invisible at night) fits into the context of the game.

The combat in Muramasa is based around a triple dash, a double jump, and a charged moved. All three abilities along with a special attack your sword can utilize and the fact that your weapon takes damage before you do makes for absorbing game play. The bosses & enemies require some thought and strategy to over come. Samurai for instance require a charged hit to break their swords, Ninja need to be dealt with swiftly, and spirits require reflecting your fireballs back at them. The result is a combat system that feels like flow, but actually requires some of the strategy and skills usually utilized in jrpgs. The sword upgrading techniques provide little to the game beyond increased stars and a seldom used special attack I don’t really use, but then again they are swords. Gotta collect ‘m all.

Muramasa has been criticized for it’s story, but I found it actually to be rather good. It didn’t impress me the way Odin Sphere did and a few minor continuity gaps result in a trip to hell, but over all it builds a peculiar romance between a Japanese femme fatale with a lot of wit and a demonically possessed spirit with immortality as his aim. I am only now playing the second character’s story, but the game’s set up and plot twists I actually felt were rather good even if the protagonist and heroine fail to develop overt romantic intentions in their dialogues. One of the things I also loved about my ending was the way the game rationalizes it’s brutality: demonic spirit possession and then deals with it in the end. The result was a game in which the player slaughters hundreds and then see their deeds punished from a different angle. Making both Jinkuro and Monohime playable in different segments was brilliant as it builds a relation between player and character.

I have committed myself to a platinum of the game I am enjoying it that much. It’s on ps vita and Wii. Strangely I never got into the Wii version. The game hides somewhat imprecise controls and a little bit of hectic platforming in layers of luscious art. It’s storyline compels and the combat system (beat it on chaos) is open ended even if the second time you run into Samurai you know exactly what to do.

May 9, 2014 at 4:54 am Leave a comment

Journals: Etrian Odyssey IV, Atelier Totori, Muramasa Rebirth, Rayman Legends

This week marked a new experience in my life: a psn sale! When I originally bought a ps3 for the last guardian and Ni no Kuni I remember being somewhat not impressed with the offerings on psn. In the age of the vita though (and perhaps due to my insatiable curiosity) the psn store seems a bit more well stocked. The Golden Week sale sold me on 3 things: Atelier Totori (never played an Atelier game before), Muramasa Rebirth (actually the second time I have bought this Vanillaware game), and vagrant story. There is an additional flash sale going on right now which could net me Guacamole!, but I am trying to restrain myself. Psn is starting to understand the nature of steam sales, and news of psn sales also get reported in surprisingly frequency. Making the deals even harder to resist especially when if you don’t buy it now, well it will still be there in the future and the number of titles on the system is limited. Anyways., let’s begin.

Atelier Totori Plus – ps vita
Once upon a time I taught two young girls, and I think this might be the game for them. The Atelier series has been in existence for over a decade now, starting off as a series of sprite based psx games (there might even be a famicom release in there I am not sure). However the ps3 Atelier games (and there will be in total 6 of them) went 3D and the series might be the better for it. Atelier games are essentially bare bones jrpgs with a fluffy girly side to the storytelling and character design. We get introduced to the boyfriend fast. The game however are quite clever in their use of time, Totori had to manage numerous quests which require actions that take up time. Want to “craft” 4 healing salves? That will be one day please. Need to harvest some rock salt? 3 days to the nearest location. A goal is then posted on this clock and the game becomes managing your time so as to effectively meet your deadline. In other words it’s nothing like other jrpgs. The combat system is standard, but here is the catch: you are the weakest party member. You are the support after all. This means when an enemy attacks you you can choose which party member will jump in front of the attack and keep you from taking damage. The result is more time has to be accorded to supporting your party members well. The Atelier games really are perfecting a curious blend of crafting, time management, and buffs and debuffs. Over all I am enjoying the game especially because it doesn’t waste my time.

Rayman Legends – ps vita
The sequel to origins is a great game, but it’s also part of that increasingly evil scene of mobile games with infinite replay ability. People still play Yoshi’s Island on snes because the game is so good and speed runners love to perfect their runs. Legends is quite smart to pick up on this offering leaderboards for each world. However the game is also bogged down in almost excessive little things to do. There is the 1 million lum challenge, the daily challenges (which aren’t that bad), but my point is this: I have finished the game. I have beaten every level in rayman legends. Yet the game has such an excess of things to do outside of the game that I am nowhere near finished. Do I have all the creatures in my daily room? No. All the lums? No. Am I anywhere near finishing every level with a golden cup? No. And this excess reveals how much perfecting and “platinuming” a game had become. As if major studios want their game to be a major time sink so you can’t work on others. Rayman legends platinum requirements are heroic because they require playing the game for reasons beyond simply playing. As does playing it daily to raid your creature room for lums. In that it creates an interesting moral dilemma, and in the grand scheme of things I think I would rather speed run SMB2 than keep collecting Lums over and over again. The game is still great as a platformer, but I am not so sure I want to make this game an everyday occurrence.

Muramasa Rebirth – ps vita
I owned this on Wii and remember playing it once or twice and never again. Then I played Odin Sphere on recommendation from kotaku and loved it. Muramasa is in some way’s Vanillaware’s most engaging title. The combat sequences are based around variety: some enemies need their weapons broken with powerful charge shots, others need fireballs reflected, and other just need to be dodges. The mechanics in the game make 2d brawler combat all the more engaging and the decision to take a page from jrpgs and make each combat section unique means the fights are fun and interesting. What impressed me most was the storyline so far. Much like Odin Sphere I am entranced. I have played this game the least of everything I am posting today, but as an occasional combat treat it is so enjoyable and I really love it. It’s better than Dragon’s Crown IMHO.

Etrian Odyessy IV – 3DS
Playing Atelier Totori reminded me I had never finished Etrian Odyessy IV. So I looked up an FAQ and set out to find the next section of the game. Much to my surprise it turned out the mistake I was making was a simple one. But unfortunately I discovered a slight flaw in the game’s design. Etrian Odyessy requires excessive grinding for minor trinkets required to move on. I have upgraded my tanks armor, but not my magic casters armor. The game is still really cool. Each area is full of mechanics worth thinking about and puzzles that aren’t boggling, but involving. However I have become more sensitive to time wasting over the years and Etrian’s necessary grinding to purchase better loot makes me wary of playing.

May 3, 2014 at 12:27 am Leave a comment

A week of Luftrausers

Difficulty is a harsh thing, but we desire the situations that produce it even if we dread it in abstraction. If any art form could produce a consistent study of difficulty, and make it’s audience experience it more brutally it would have to be video games. We desire play that enforces situations of great stress, it’s just when that play becomes mundane, when the game ceases to be “fair” and becomes “cheap” we cease to prefer it. What Luftrausers is good at is understanding exactly what makes difficulty desirable in video games. It just then happens to mess the whole thing up.

The new arcade movement is a set of video game designers intrigued by the idea of difficult games as a medium. Their muses include numerous quarter crunching arcade games and well probably life. The flagship product of the movement is Hotline Miami a game so difficult and random it can ultimately be immutably frustrating with out ever seeming impossible. The game is made of humane mistakes, a guy rounds a corner before you come in or you happen to miss judge a shot, shatter a window, and get eaten by guard dogs. The game is difficult with out ever seeming out of the player’s possibility. Luftrausers is similarly intoxicating. We understand our plane and how it moves and how it moves is intense. It’s first set of goals are challenging with out ever seeming impossible.

What sets luftrausers apart from Hotline Miami is a key feature of it’s genre: the high score. Shmups are built around scoring mechanics, players all over the world compete to be the best at mushi mushi pork & other shmups. On my third day in Luftrausers I did something I have never done before: I made the highest score on psn. At 64k my score has reigned supreme for over a week now. I receive fan mail asking me opinions on plane builds and parts usage. My theories of the game’s spawning algorithms are discussed by other players. I have never felt as in tune with a game as this one, so why am I so unhappy with it?

Richard Garfield held a talk on a cruise where he discussed luck versus skill. High skill games often deter players from playing again. Crush a 9 year old in chess and they will simply think they’re stupid, beat a 6 year old at a board game and they’ll just think you got lucky. The level of intention a player can express in a game in turn determines how likely a player will interrupt the result as their fault. Fail a mission in Hotline Miami? Well guess what, it’s just because that guy rounded a corner and he probably won’t next time. The problem is shmups are a high skill genre. Once you’ve beaten r-type you can pretty much always beat r-type. A good game of touhou involves a lot of luck, but experience ensures you will come through ok. Shmups are games that consistent play usually ensures success in the future. I couldn’t make a 64k score again even I tried… And I have tried.

What does one do when your skill at a game is so consistently misread? When I watched totalbiscuit’s wtf for luftrausers I was struck by something: he’s a lot better player than I am. The people emailing me on psn? More committed. Now am I a regular shmup player who understood chain kills, popcorn, managing said corn, leading, and other basic shmup skills before those other players did? Probably. But here is the problem, high skilled players of Luftrausers are not properly rewarded. The game is simply,to chaotic to provide skill sets with proper motivation to continue. Take the missions for example.

Luftrausers is based on numerous missions that often teach you fascinating facets of the game. These challenges can range from the mundane: kill 5 enemy types to the absurd: take down a blimp with nothing, but homing missiles. The problem the missions reveal is that when we read luftrausers as more than just a high score sandbox, but rather as a level with a mission to accomplish the game becomes difficult in ways that jostle with the underlying craziness. When you’re only out to play or make a high score getting gunned down by a minor foe is nothing, it’s like losing a mission in Hotline to mistiming a random dog. The problem is when you’re tasked with something exceedingly high skill: take down a blimp or kill an ace at Max combo in SMFT mode all of the chaos means excessive repeating to get a few seconds practice to only to have your hopes dashed again as the next play through proves even more difficult… Say aces spawning in the first moment or the blimp showing up extra early. The problem becomes this frustration is not with your inept skill level, but rather with your inability to better your skill level do to randomly spawning foes. The game becomes cheap in a way Hotline Miami never did. It switches the fault line of frustration from your own (I suck at chess) to the game (this game is cheap) it’s like any of those numerous nes moments in the angry video game nerd adventures. I would like to say this challenge makes the game better, but in reality it makes it worse. It encourages excessive play in order to spawn a random seed that happens to be forgiving enough for the player to practice their skills. Luftrausers’ problem is that it trains pilots to be skilled and then drops them into an environment where those skills become irrelevant. It fails to make the difficulty of the missions engaging and in the end it just relies on a cheap trick of fast infinite respawns to keep the player going. It is however the best hi score sandbox ever made, it just fails as a linear game.

March 30, 2014 at 12:59 am Leave a comment

The Language Problem

Film is such a well versed and analyzed format that we know terms for it that were invented by geeks and nerds who became out auteurs in time. To watch Godard is to learn about film. Can the same be said about architecture or games? Games have primarily grown up as play things. Heavily versed in consumerism and the language around them continues to be the same one used in magazines and advertisements.

I few weeks ago I had the idea of writing reviews of games that didn’t involve recommending a purchase. Similar to the way film theorists can create discourse around a film they might not even like. This proved to be a problem. A lot of what I like about games is their purchasablity and less their their qualities as a piece of art. Try to find the meaning in Kickle Cubicle, the heart of Majora’s Mask? Games are often empty in the ways literature and film are filling. It doesn’t matter if we’re looking at the bizarre Marxist truth of Star Wars or the epicenter of an art film like Peter Greenaway, we’re experiencing a textual narrative that’s linearity accentuates the conveying of meaning with in. This is similar to Ebert’s criticism of games in which he notes that meaning is often produced by the linear. Now think about Vito Aconicci or Bernard Tuschumi. Neither produce work with heavy linear storytelling ideas. Rather their work is either in space, social interaction, or performance / identity.

Games don’t exist often in the realm of truth novels can provide. While studios like Naughty Dog are trying, the exclusion of nonlinear mechanics and the inability of the player to realize themselves in the game takes away for the experience of it being a game. On the other hand games which are all mechanics and no storyline often don’t affect their audience in the same way. But the conundrum of meaning in the filmic sense and the experiential is a subject art criticism has longed resolved. No one argues that Joseph Beuys performances didn’t mean anything, the tension of man and wolf or the disgust of audience and masturbator is exactly what makes performance art captivating. The experience is meaningful with out needing the strictures novels and books require.

How does this relate to video game criticism though? When we think about Acconci or Beuys we know them through theory. Their work comes steeped in art criticism that in turn lets us analyze the real world in new and refreshing ways. We’re given a noticing task so we can catch the meaning in an act we would otherwise interrupt as unmeaningful. We begin to think about the tension of self and environment, the acceptability of certain social acts and their pairings in our everyday lives, we become more full because art is exploring subjects pertinent to concerns we face everyday. A psychoanalytic film might provide us with insight into a particularly creepy denizen of our day to day. But how did we arrive at this knowledge? It’s part of the pitch of the medium. Performance art advertises theory that empowers it and helps us. It comes steeped in a set ideas that establish meaning in a fashion previously unused. It makes meaning from space, action, or identity and that’s just to start with.

When we see writing about video games it is often in the form of advertising, when we write about games it is often about purchasing them. We’ve been taught to analyze and think about games in this way. The dissemination of a new language about games is only beginning. We hear critics talking about “mechanics” “ludonarrative dissonance” and other terms. The ability to think about games critically and in turn create meaning with them requires a better populace more informed by key gaming terms, until that happens we’ll all be just turning around pr points, spouting desires that only relate to games as commercial commodities, when we could be thinking about identification, what makes a mechanic compelling, and the other constructions these truly fake worlds provide. In other words if we can’t describe ourselves we can’t improve ourselves. Games don’t mean in ways we’ve been taught to look for, rather their meaning often shuttles by like so many commuters on a Monday train, this doesn’t just for the audience it goes for the creators too.

Wonder Flick creates tensions by introducing the player to an unfair battle field. The player uses up resources to deal damage with only a mild guarantee of similar resources. The result is compelling as each anxiety wave laps over the party as you try to succeed. The game simulates anxiety in a unique way. Already I am coming back around to a pitch buy! Buy! But am I doing that because the game lacks meaning or because the form was created in such a way? It’s the later I think. The mechanics in games, especially triple A games, is often made with markets in mind. Wonder flick is compelling because it sells, not because it means anything. In The Last of Us we’re presented with consistent resource conversation. The protagonist must sneak by hostile in order to save resources to fight more hostiles. The game rests on the idea of prediction, patterns must observed and tactical considerations of where to use set resources. The result however is quite meaningful. The context of the narrative and the story the gameplay shows are almost one in the same. In this sense naughty Dog has captured something, that games have narratives in their ludology as much in their story themselves. This is one of the points in Homo Ludens that games are themselves narrative. Such layers showing up in a triple a game should be celebrated, it shows the teams behind it are taking their job seriously not as providers of entertainment, but as artisans trying to move the medium forward. If pop culture can stomach an art form that uses the consumer’ s own initiative to move the story forward is another matter.

How many reviews of The Last of Us caught this clear quoting of Homo Ludens in its gameplay? How many readers were introduced to the idea of games as representative of / enacting something? Almost none. Do the consistent games of anxiety ridden exploration with resource management and prediction make the plot of The Last of us better? Yes. However, As long as we continue to replicate the market’s terse terminology of enjoyment and recommendations we’ll never truly understand what we want is depth in games and less the fun and consumption we enjoy today. The medium has spawned a player ship commendable in their intelligence, it’s just up to the media to spread the ideas and get the discourse flowing. We need to talk more about mechanics in games and less why we enjoyed them.

December 10, 2013 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

Kokuga

Hiroshi Iuchi’s career has been a wandering one: he began at Konami, moved to treasure, left treasure for another company, and then came back to Treasure only to leave again. At treasure he created Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga to shumps aka shooters that received intense critical praise and one of which will be heading to steam in a few weeks. Both games shared unique mechanics Radiant Silvergun equips the player with 3 different types of shots that can be combined to create new iterations on existing weapons. Using them effectively is the challenge. Ikaruga on the other had let the player flip between black or white eliminating damage from projectiles of the matching coloring. Each game is also littered with boss fights, some more intense than the last. That’s what makes his latest game Kokuga such a surprise.

Kokuga is a mobile tank shump. It takes place in a much slower place than Radiant Silvergun did. Shots fired in Kokuga have a limited range, luckily your tank’s fire goes much further than your enemies. What Kokuga emphasizes is precision: you can not shoot another shot until your shot has landed. The result is a lot of strafing if you’re not really precise. Aiming is handled by the right and left bumpers making rotating your barrel a bit of a chore. This also sounds bad, but it’s really quite refreshing. Kokuga wants us to think ahead, we have to plan and predict where the next is going to be and then move in for the kill. It takes Iuchi’s previous experiments with strategy and boils it down to minute movements and small predictions. Kokuga manages to make a shooter feel very tactical. This tactical sense is further enforced by the addition of cards. The tank can be temporarily upgraded using a card from the touch screen. Some enemies are more easily dispatched this way, and others practically require an upgrade to take down. The upgrades are limited, but not so much that you run out. However you can only see 3 at a time so if you need a shield regeneration effect, you might need to burn a few before you find a heal. It borrows the card idea from board games at puts it to great effect in a shooter.

Graphically Kokuga is sparse. The polygons are simple and developer G.Rev is known for their shoe string budges and financial difficulties. However, the sparseness of the backgrounds and unit design means you see each shot coming. This is not a shump with overwhelming backdrops. The level design is peculiar to, the game offers 4 endings that can be experienced after beating only a handful of VR missions. The last missions are tough and take place in a warzone while the VR missions are more like a computer training ground.

What I love about Kokuga is the obvious sense of design that went into this. It asks that you create constraints on your play time and lets you go straight to the end. It also feels remarkably tactical while maintaining the real time stress of a typical shooter. It shows what we also kinda new about Iuchi: that he plans his games out. Kokuga is an amazing documents for anyone looking to further their understanding of game design.

November 7, 2013 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

Shelter by might and delight

We’re supposed to use words to describe things.

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Shelter is a game by Might and Delight. Might and Delight’s history is unknown to me beyond their last game P.I.D. Which was a disaster in some sense, but a compelling one in another. Shelter is a far more focused game. You are a badger mom. Now I know you just went out and bought the game based out that fact alone, but maybe we should discuss the mechanics?

You know that little grey baby at your side? It needs food. Your cubs will starve to death if not given enough food and that makes up a healthy portion of the game. Shelter is not a stress inducing game, what it does right is realize the potential of ambient play. It’s also really really linear, but the linearity ensures you don’t get lost. There are a few thankfully small sections were the anxiety bird descends and the play mechanics change to scurrying from cover to cover.

Creatively the game derives from nature documentaries, Disney films, and Metal Gear Solid. Mechanics include a well done night level, flash floods, and using brush to hunt foxes. The game is more than it’s parts by a long shot. It is propelled by a soundtrack that’s indolence and any meanderings capture the experience of a nature walk perfectly. The outdoors are meant to be relaxing, Shelter understands that.

When you’re in the wilderness thought often ceases. Nature still provides enough for the mind to see that our attention often shifts elsewhere, we become attuned to the asymmetrical ambience that surrounds us. Nature is a form of meditation and Shelter realizes this. The game is as charming as a nature walk. It reminds me of a 3 day hike I took into the Grand Tetons, the stillness of that horizon. With ambient play becoming so vast Shelter does something important: it doesn’t risk atmosphere for mechanics.

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    On another note I recently bought SMB2 aka Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic from the 3DS eshop and am enjoying it immensely. It got me thinking about platformers and the way they ended up going. Yume Kojo is not an inherently violent game, each and every critter can be chocked out of the way, playing as the princess you can politely put them down in another space. This creates an interesting tension because enemies require skill to be squashed. The game preserves a slightly more complicated ecosystem of ostriches, shy guys, ninjas, and ninnies. The game also has some interesting mechanics, things pulled up from roots include bombs, a watch that stops time, and a potion that makes a door and what with those doors anyways? Do the coins in the alternative dimension do anything? I collect them like rare gems Hoping they increase my score a bit. Yume Kojo is a lot like Quack Shot, it’s not necessarily lethal and it also makes riding enemies a breeze. It suggests a different place platformers could have gone to a less lethal and more constructive world. One where gender is a choice, and platforms are cosmopolitan accommodators. The vertical levels designs still give me the chills, those pauses as we adjust to the next free fall sections. I love this game even if it’s not as adrenaline pounding as Mario Brothers be. I want to make a spiritual sequel with horses and dragons and mice, a gravity system, an insane race to awesome. So many of these ideas need to be fleshed out, but instead we’re getting a 4 player 3D Mario that looks awful.

    Also have been playing this game a bit:

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    It took a little bit to get it and I won’t get in depth this early through, but the hype is worth it on this one.

    September 30, 2013 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

    For Kakao

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    An iOS game only has to compete against idle time. When you’re at work and all the work is done, you can boot up Plants vs Zombies and play all you want. An iOS game only needs to be better than another iOS game. So this week I have been exploring that most heinous part of gaming: the casual or social gamer. On message boards all over the net console games decry the social gamer. Social games are often seen as the bane of console fanatics. Numerous triple A publishers have sacrificed time and resources for big budget console chart toppers to dip into the apparently more lucrative world of iOS and android games. This has led to anyone who ever liked Final Fantasy 9 having to ball tears and sheathe with hatred after discovering the director of their favorite game now makes mobile crap.

    Mobile crap is the detritus of a market in which cash hungry or merely desperate, but surprisingly digitally literate, desperadoes shovel shit onto a mobile device’s App Store. These games are obviously rip offs of other games or perhaps there’s something there and console gamers aren’t seeing it. Try getting off Candy Crush Saga etc. regardless mobile crap is all the stuff you wish wasn’t on an App Store in lieu of your favorite game. In the midst of sampling these crap tarts I came across a shump that’s a bit of a gem. I have no idea what the name is though because my Korean has shriveled to a neuron in my memory bank and I think some sujo swept the rest away.

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    Ok so I have a small confession to make: I like big brilliant cartoony graphics. Really, they do things for me. This game makes Mario look like a noir, the colors pop is so vibrant. Another pleasure of mine are Japanese shooters that involve magical girls who often ride brooms and fight hoards of baddies. This game instead has you piloting a robotic cat submarine so double points for originality.

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    But what makes the game stand out is that it’s an endless shooter. Shumps often require you hold down the shoot button for long periods of time, hence this loss of a button is actually an improvement, more shooters should just simplify down to auto-shoot. Now unlike almost every other shump I have ever played my bullets have range. Your stream of damage only goes about 2/3 of the screen in front of you meaning that maneuvering is necessary. Ok so add to this a typical level up super powered beam thing and a distance tracker and you start to get the game. Oh yeah it also gets a bit tough early on and the waves of enemies become almost impenetrable after the third boss, so I am pretty confident practice of in app purchases are required. Probably the later. Additionally instead of being a bullet hell dodger this game is a school of fish dodger if you can damage them enough you can weave a path a through the game other wise you’re just going to have to dodge. Dead fish float in the water till a tap clears them causing bonus points and in the case of puffer fish an additional explosion.

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    For Kakao is how I found then, these little shumps are all intended to be used on a Korean social network. As far as I can tell none of them are beatable with out in app purchases, but for the 3 days I have before vacation begins they will suffice.

    But is that how these games work? Do they provide such small subjective and personal Utopias that cash flush gamers like myself end up punching lots of little transactions into them? Has the App Store fragmented our tastes and little niche bubbles pop up a FarmVille addict there a match 3 fan there? What mobile crap makes me wonder about is how to design a market place that rewards such niche markets, that dots every subjective desire with affection, but then requires them to stand in line with their nemesis? It makes me curious how hegemonies in the industry will strangle it and make it their usual plateau of influence. Big name publishers are desperate to dominate the mobile space, is their consistent and steady output of crappy games and ad campaigns intended to destroy the lush indies underneath who might have your perfect game? And let’s not forgot about those consoles. They compete with your home time, when home cinemas and 3D TVs could be equally demanding pressures as much as family or the joy of jogging could be. Console games compete against time that capitalism requires: your leisure time or the spending moments, it’s that iOS and Android have out a shopping mall in our hands and ask we spend our idle time more productively that worries me.

    Tried these two today:

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    I don’t remember the name of the game, but one is a really direct clone of a puzzle arcade game. The thing about the games is: I had fun playing two of them, so I don’t know maybe the console mobile division is a healthy separation.

    September 25, 2013 at 4:04 am Leave a comment

    In praise of fascism or Ni No Kuni

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    About all we knew was that Shadar was evil. His means were horrendous, in the family safe environments of our game there exists a condition: broken hearted. Shader imposes this condition, how exactly he does I do not know. He has never come down to impose it on me, and the condition is so common that his imposition of it must spread like a disease, people all over the content are broken hearted except one little area Shadar decimated where he left behind a single witch to carry out his heart extracting activities.

    Ni No Kuni approximately translates to another world. That is where the action happens in this game: in a fantasy land that connects with the “real” through a surprisingly wholesome mechanic of feelings. Why one world would be exciting, large, and quite adventurous and the other is a mundane town is another question. Does the excitement of the other world require a boring counterpart at it’s base? Is our world in other worlds a sedate pill from which fantasy suckles? Motorville is the emotionally regular plateau on which Ni No Kuni rests, an entire fantasy globe transcribed to a single linear plane of automobiles and country stores. This fact is rarely acknowledged in the storyline.

    Shakespeare stole from other stories. He told tales he had heard from others, but his genuis was in finding the reasoning and diversity of people residing in them. Anyone can tell you Hamlet, but who can explain Hamlet? Much less who can make an indecisive brooding douche bag into a compelling character? Ni No Kuni follows acknowledged tropes: you are the Messiah, “the one the prophecies foretold” but the game offers little explanation for Oliver’s actions. Your name is Olivier btw, your magical doll is Mr. Drippy (high lord of the faeries) who comically has a Welsh or Scottish accent so deep it becomes amusing. Ni No Kuni might be designed by Level-5, but it lacks Miyazaki’s magical ability to make relatable characters. The characters in the game are literally cut from stereotypical cloth. In the 50 something hours I spent in the game, it rarely stopped for characterization and even story moments while often uplifting are scarce in plot detail. Ni No Kuni has great design, but a puny storyline unworthy of the Ghibli heritage. This isn’t a case of plot by theft, rather it is laid out in so stereotypical a fashion the story is in the commons: your are the Messiah.

    As the Messiah Oliver espouses the virtues of kindness and selflessness. He is hardly as complicated as Buddha or compelling as Christ, rather he is plain and his philosophy hardly varies into the harsh reality of ethics. He is simply put a childhood fable, but one whose momentary influence on a child’s ethics will be shattered the moment a child decides to take a selfish act. Oliver acquires and maintains his status as the good guy by remaining “pure hearted” or simple in his ethical dimension. This is why Shadar is such a surprise.

    Ni No Kuni’s main nemesis is a wizard known for leaving his victims “broken hearted”. The broken hearted are enfeebled in such a manor that they can no longer accomplish basic duties like opening doors, adventuring, etc. Shadar attacks your group several times in the game, but never quite fleshes out as a character. Once you beat him the game attempts an explanation of his actions: Shadar was a soldier blah blah saw some atrocities blah blah asked to kill kids refuses blah blah is horrified by war and… becomes an evil wizard to stop war. Yes Ni No Kuni is a game in love with fascism. Shadar’s global reign of evil is also a time of peace. In order to prevent war Shadar became a dark wizard who intimidated an entire globe into acquiescence. I know. Way to go Shadar. This one little factoid might be the storyline’s defining moment. It’s the only thing in Ni No Kuni that provides depth to the characters.

    The Pokemon like battle system is awesome, in the higher levels your a.i. Driven companions can become a bit of a chore, but over all the affinities, the weaknesses, the strengths all balance out to a remarkably interesting team. Leveling up creatures to their final form isn’t a lengthy task and the game provides a gym somewhere to do it.

    Graphically the game is just amazing. Studio Ghibli’s creations are some of the most intricate and well designed creations in the history of animation, and the expression and characterization their designs provide are amazing. In the end players of this game will go in for this reason. The battle system is ok, the storyline is passable, but drops into the horrid at times, however the world is enchanting and the privilege of raising Ghibli pets is hard to pass on. I had a lot of fun.

    September 23, 2013 at 2:24 am Leave a comment

    Review: Dragon’s Crown

    When you’re in the over world in an RPG, you are in a different state. Possibilities open up, enemies squirm in front, and the possibility of a voyage is present. Over worlds are tranquil states, places between the battles of dungeons and the storyline of cities. In Final Fantasy 3 achieving the over world is a delight. Ni No Kuni it’s empowering, but dangerous. In RPGs this is where the majority of grinding occurs. In a tranquil place where you think you’re doing something else.

    In Dragon’s Crown you do it in tight linear tunnels. Dragon’s Crown is an RPG in a subtle sense. Loosely based off Capcom’s famous Dungeon and Dragon’s beat’m ups, the game takes place in a single city with a shop to recruit fellow warriors, a place to resurrect them, an upgrade parlor replete with fix ‘m up shop, and of course an Adventurer’s guild. The guild plays surprisingly little way in the game’s storyline, instead the game chooses a D.M. Who in tells you the story as if in a role playing session. The story is standard fantasy fare with a little poke here and there on the storyline. The city is incredible well laid out and a joy to use. It’s easy to get around and get things repaired.

    What makes Dragon’s Crown unique, and refreshing, is that instead of being a 3D RPG, it’s instead a stat heavy beat’m up. Fans of Golden Axe and Final Fight take note: the genre is not dead. The game’s kinetic combat is full of swoops and whirls. My Elf is fully capable of dashing across screen at a moment’s notice and her arrows while sparse also replenish quickly. The game perfectly balances the tension between over powered ranged attacks and the peril of melee. What it does wrong is fail to provide enough choice in the skill tree to make your character feel unique. You quickly fall Into a grind of fairly predictable enemy behavior. Later unlocks, so far, do not introduce new abilities although my archer can go down the frost, poison, or rapid attack path of damage, all of which are abilities I unlocked by level 9 the play style stays fairly similar. The character are more were the game makes up for this, they are varied in the extreme. The bosses can be gruesome and a bit clever, a few have predictable wind ups you must dodge, others ask you to deal with adds while someone tanks the boss’ damage. A few even include mechanics with the environment. With the wrong party, you can die quickly, never take squishies into the red dragon’s den, but if you can pick your friends right and the party knows the boss most can be done quickly. In other words it’s an RPG.

    Now imagine this: you and your friends sit down with your ps vitas or a ps3 and a few controllers and roll some party members. A Dwarf comes on board, a Warrior, an elf, and a bizarrely proportioned Sorceress. The Tanks take the damage, the Sorceress provides DPS and an the elf flips around killing little adds and providing some needed poison shots and evasion. The situation is stellar, it’s just you have no idea what’s going on. Dragon’s Crown has incredibly lush visuals. It is drawn with an admiration of D&D that goes beyond the ordinary. The environments are beautiful, the characters larger than life, and your little elf or Wizard will get knocked back, chewed on by ghouls, annihilated by one hit boss attacks, however you can quickly get covered over by the other characters on screen and all the game offers is a simple colored ring to help differentiate your characters. At times I have spent 10 – 15 seconds trying to find my character on screen. Add to this that it’s hard to gauge when a ranged attack is on the Y axis as the target and you begins to get the idea. The game often becomes a melee fight with ranged being at a slight disadvantage. The design of RPG manuals is lush, but confusing, the game needs a way of simplifying the in screen chaos so you can take better evasive action during an epic fight. However after a few hours of play most of these moments of confusion subside as you become accustomed tracking your self and prioritizing the enemies on screen. Parties become strategic, magic users take out ghosts, elves stick to the smaller adds while tanks take on the bigger foes etc.

    The match making works, after beating the lost woods and getting a dragon trophy you can now play online with other players. You need to collect 9 talismans to reach the next story point, and this means replaying the same 9 dungeons you just did only with real actual players. The replays offer little variety, a boss b is required for the talisman hence groups whole heartily choose B over A even when slightly under powered. But basically the game makes you replay the first levels with out bots. What’s worrying is that the a.i. For bots is rather bad, they rarely evade obvious boss wind ups and up one hit and on the floor, hence the talisman quests essentially require co-op as much as Hunted: The Demon’s Forge required one player to take the dark path of sledge addiction for the other to progress on the good ending. If online co-op dried up players will have to range together friends and do it locally, the bots can not make it past the B bosses, in fact the last 2 A bosses might take down your party and cost you all of your gold. [Update] if you run into this problem go to the church resurrect higher level tanky bots and you should be ok, but the first ancient dragon still ate about 9 level 35 bots before I got him down. Btw to access online co-op go to the gate, press start, and choose the first option.

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    Oh yeah and to add to the game’s troubles, it got lambasted by Kotaku for it’s depiction of women. But let’s not focus on the true, but negative. The game has varied characters, the Fighter and the Amazon are genuinely different, the elf and sorceress, the wizard they all have unique play styles. It’s a brawler, but one with unique traits. The narrator is well voiced and the game can be told with a variety of voices and the animations are solid. Once you acclimate to the online play storming a dungeon with 4 others is a blast. The game displays your damage clearly so you know if you’re out ranking other players, the leveling system is a breeze and cooking is tons of fun. The game does a lot of things right, it’s just not built, at this moment, for the long run. In my last group people were already running like MMO dungeon runners from ghosts to check point. That said, the 4 player brawler is a genre usually relished to nostalgia, Vanilla Ware has made it relevant again even if the flaws that haunted Final Fight are still somewhat present in this game. For the limitations the format provides, Vanilla Ware has done a great job expanding on the formula and providing a unique and memorable experience. I can’t wait to level up my Dwarf and finish the game again.

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    Update: Dragon’s Crown is also a game of a game. It marries Diablo loot collection to the mechanics of old school coin ups. The more you die, the more you spend. In these moments if rather brilliantly plays on our own expectations and turns the coins in the slot metaphor into a desperate gambit to pay attention to your other party members and then to click them in time. Continues are surprisingly pricey things in the later bot levels, after I finished 9 I spent some time farming coins before even trying the online play. Additionally, the click to loot mechanic is awesome and probably works well on vita. Parties compete to be the first to click the chest or activate the runes. The rune based magics are helpful and one of the better co-op mechanics I’ve seen. It’s not invasive, and it lets a more experienced player show off their runes and knowledge with some well placed clicks. So it’s really a game that relies on previous knowledge of games and uses the device nicely, it’s just becomes bland in the same way Golden Axe does after awhile. The game play doesn’t feel strategic the way an RPG does, instead it feels impulsive. This is partly do timing, the game is fast paced, but it’s hard to shake the feeling you”re doing the same thing time and again.

    Update Epic Elf:
    Beat the normal level today so unlocked epic elf I.e. the elf d.m. Voice pack and the next hard more. 9 more grinds and I can fight the next dragon. Replaying the same 9 levels is a bit annoying, but they are thankfully short so the grind isn’t a big deal. Multiplayer was down due to my shitty Internet, so I just had to use bots to fill out my party. Collect those bones! When you’re at the boss they make all the difference. I am not so sure the game is really about the levels as much as the character. I would love to see all the things the sorceress can do and my elf can now climb to 65 in levels meaning more health and damage. The game is really about the spectacle of the player and less the meaning of the level, although side quests do unlock some extra rooms. I still need to write down the runes I have yet to utilize, have all of them now. All in all a fairly short grind for bad ass ness. Seeing the characters is the real delight, but finding normal difficulty parties is now hard. Hopefully hard mode will reveal a few new players to me and multiplayer is working tomorrow. I still object to Vanilla Ware’s mmo style re-use of content, but the levels really aren’t that bad and maybe hard mode will show some new stuff in the levels. In a quest with another elf last week we ended up in a new room with slimy zombies that attacked us and are weak to fire. My whirlpools are powered up by water. All in all a fairly friendly grind just one that really needs content outside of the player to make it feel fresh. A little more Torchlight 2 style randomness would be appreciated. The storyline is about as deep as 90s fighting game, but I am enjoying myself and would love to see what unlocks at higher levels. Give it a go, but once you’ve seen the 9 you’ve seen 90% of the game’s exterior, it’s what’s inside your character that counts.

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    Ain’t no party like an all Elf party

    Ok so hard more adds a few new creatures a goblin that can turn you into a frog, and captains. Captains are tankish big guys that are primarily up scaled versions of knights. They do have slightly different move sets and change the dynamic of the game from break up and kill to everyone take down the captain. The ghouls have more frequent red ghouls and the bosses get adds and a little bit more armor. Leveling is quick, I shot up to 40 in an hour a gain of 8 levels and gained 4 more levels the next hour. So 7 ~ 8 ish is about right so expected about an hour and a half of grinding for 10 levels. That seems fair. I also discovered a new ability with my elf and upgraded her damage output slightly. Hard more is killing me sometimes, but weapon wear becomes less frequent 40+ weapons seem to go the distance. The game froze the second hour at a black screen so lost possibly 3 levels to that and one talisman. Hard mode primarily asks of you better creep control although the furry of spells from the magic users with the plethora of abilities on screen creates some serious clutter. I should power up to 50 by tomorrow and hopefully have the talismans for dragon 2 by Saturday or Sunday. P.s. the new enemies do change the game play, whenever that goblin wizard appears everyone gets on him and forgets about the adds.

    one way to think about it: Dragon’s Crown is to beat’m ups what Borderlands 2 is to fps or Torchlight 2 is to action RPGs. It lacks the dungeon variety of torchlight 2, but the loot mechanic works and for a core group of players this game will become as compulsive as an MMO. For me at least taken the incredible lack of other games in it’s genre, Dragon’s Crown is worth the price if you need a beat’m up to play with friends that happens to have some real depth and hacking to it. I mention hacking because you can set up skills that compliment each other quite easily and supplement them with further abilities and potions. However, where Borderlands 2 and Torchlight 2 have massive amounts of content Dragon’s Crown is only slightly longer than the arcade games it quotes from. I am slowly developing a theory behind the game’s development: Index is bankrupt and I believe Dragon’s crown was originally cross buy, but those plans were canceled. Vanilla Ware’s games have rarely premiered at full retail price. They are usually in the 30 usd range on release if I am understanding correctly. I updated my review with a few more positives because I am beginning to think Vanilla Ware didn’t intend this game as a full price title, but rather ended up having to sell it as one. With a bankrupt corporate parent and the canceling of cross buy (had this game been cross buy it would have been a steal for both versions and the current price) the indications point to some corporate Tom foolery on Index’s part. Had this been 30 usd, it would be brilliant, but I still have to say buyer beware: it’s over 50 usd to grind the same 9 levels even if everything else rocks.

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    Update: having fun as the Sorceress and enjoying the game a whole lot more playing as a character I like. She has spells activated by scrolling through the equipment list and each wands gives her a different set of elemental abilities. Huge tits are more grotesque than alluring, but over all I get this woman, she does a good job as support and deals out some awesome Aoe damage. Leveling up the elf is a serious grind right now, hopefully infernal opens up some more exp.

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    Rerunning the first 9 is a breeze with higher level bots. My team of 35s are practically one hitting some bosses and the Sorceress provides them with food. All in all a good time and I could see myself getting more into the support role.

    July 28, 2013 at 12:39 pm 2 comments

    Find Mii or empowerment, the princess in distress

    The vast majority of games deal with empowerment. Skyrim turns you into a bad ass, many FPS games similarly build the character into a gun toting colusus, and Guild Wars 2 level syncs were derided by some because it failed to make the average character feel powerful. Empowerment is usually what we build in games either through skill or through simple accumulation of credits and special abilities. It is also a fantasy primarily associated with a masculine becoming in gender.

    I bought a 3ds in April and have been walking around with street pass on for the last few weeks to try out the mii plaza games. Here is how it works, you make a mii and share it via street pass, your mii in turn is traded via wifi to other 3ds owners who in turn you get a mii from. The result is a surprisingly engaging game of vanity, every person I have made contact with has hats well beyond my level and other vanity items I have yet to acquire. It makes me feel surprisingly self-conscious about my mii because I want to impress and delight other as much as the crazy ones I’ve picked up have. Of the two miis I’ve collected both were pretty awesome and made me laugh. Street pass increased the virtual connection, the identification with my avatar by making dress a social and location based commodity. It made the Miis more valuable by making them scarce and special. Then there are the games.

    Find Mii is a game in which your Mii is disempowered. Your Mii, like Princess Peach, is stuck in a cage at the end of a dungeon. You are the princess in the dungeon in this game. It’s a strange sensation for me because I am so used to games making me feel powerful, yet I love this camaraderie of 3DS ownership and seeing these street passed Miis try to take out Ghosts in a very jrpg style. The game creates a connection between players and then uses that connection to have someone else’s Mii (which you play as no less) go out to rescue your Mii. It’s a strangely disempowering experience, yet works surprisingly well as a game, it might be the best location based game I have ever seen. What does Fnd Mii say about the relation between player and avatar especially as you experience the actual avatar playing the game as foreign while identifying with your own avatar in the cage? It’s interesting that representing a disempowered and to some extent feminine fantasy in gaming took the creation of location based games to increase your connection with the avatar and then a simple swap of that stronger identification to make you feel like some strangers are coming to rescue you. It really says a lot about the potential of game play outside of physical controllers.

    When we talk about and design games we often do with the implicit assumption of a joystick, games are emotionally established and carried by a general assumption of a single player story driven joystick controlled game. That using other interfaces like location and touch can bring unexpected emotional resonance to a game should not be unexpected, yet what Find Mii and Street Pass are proving is that location games can show peculiar places in game designs and take us on metaphors more provocative than just empowerment.

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    July 16, 2013 at 12:25 am Leave a comment

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