Games Rebels Play – January 2013
I’ve been spending a lot of time with the demo for Bravely Default over the last month. The mechanics are a great mix of classic RPG battles and stories with the classic Final Fantasy job system. The streetpass functionality is also really cool and does a good job of adding an extra level of strategy and fun.
I also played though Broken Age. It’s a great game, but I am really disappointed in how Double Fine handled their kickstarter and the social contract they entered into with their backers. While Broken Age does have a conclusion, there are enough bugs in the game that it does make me wonder how they actually spent all the money they raised. I continue to have massive respect for them as a studio, but I am definitely going to be more careful about backing their projects in the future.
I also got sucked into the mobile game Quiz RPG on Android. It’s very similar in structure to Puzzle & Dragons or the Doctor Who game that the BBC put out, but instead of a generic match three game to drive attacks it uses a multiple choice quiz model, similar to Trivial Pursuit. It’s fun to level cards and make your way through the world, and it’s nice to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile with your brain while doing so.
I played Amnesia, Aaaaa for the Awesome and A Virus Named Tom, and One Take, a most recent Ludum Dare favorite, along a little BIT.TRIP Runner, but couldn’t get any more perfects in the first world.
I played Flappy Bird at the end of January, what an awesome game. Like every month though, I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2, and also a lot of Gnomoria, which I got back in December, and I am still enjoying the game a lot!
I kicked of 2014 with some gaming during the first day of the year, and NightSky from Nifflas was how I started my year. It’s a physics-based puzzle game that features a very lovely presentation and it’s just the kind of short and fun game I love to play between reviews.
I also played first Episode of The Walking Dead Season 2 during the first week of January, and it was just what I needed after the cliffhanger from Season 1 and the new crew introduced in the stand-alone 400 Days episode. If you thought that Clementine had a rough time during Season 1, be prepared for a lot of twists and turns during Episode 1 of the new season.
I eventually managed to get a review copy for Castlestorm on Wii U since everything was delayed after the great eShop outage of 2013 (thank you, Pokemon Bank! ¬_¬). I loved the game on PS3 and Vita (I got ALL of the trophies for the game AND the DLC), and it was even better on Wii U since the extra power of Nintendo’s console made everything run smoother and faster, look crisper and sound better. It’s a nice 2D sort-of-tower-defense game with a ton of content, skills, weapons and spells, and troops to manage, and one of the few games I’ve played from start to finish even after doing the same on another system.
After this I dove into Cubit on 3DS, a title that does its name justice (it IS after all Cubit: The Hardcore Platformer Robot). The title pretty much explains what you need to know about the game, and the fact that levels are synchronized to the music means you must pay attention to the rhythm to learn when to jump and when to stay on the ground or you’ll be thrown back to the start of the level to give it another try.
Contrast is the first game I’ve 100% on PS4, and even though it’s a short game I loved every minute of it. It’s a platformer/puzzle release where shadows play an important part in the game since Dawn (who you control) can use shadows to explore the very classy 1920’s setting, and you must move around the light sources to change the shape and size of shadows to solve several of the puzzles. It is charming, fun and unique.
After playing so much Fire Emblem: Awakening, I decided to change things a bit by playing Shining Force: The Sword of Haiya, a Game Gear release, thanks to the Virtual Console of the 3DS. Yeah, I know, it’s not much different from Fire Emblem, but the different setting and old-school mechanics (and no perma-death) did provide me with a nice change of pace.
Unepic was the highlight of my gaming month. The game might not look like it, but it’s a very deep platformer with lots of RPG elements (leveling up, upgrading stats, hundreds of weapons, skills, spells and items to manage), and as Francois can attest, it just keeps you going and going for hours without ever feeling like taking a break. I spent 26 hours with the game before finally seeing the ending, and this is even crazier when you realize it’s all the work of just one guy.
This month my wife and I played Path of Exile, after it got such positive year end press. It is quite good, and sets itself apart from other Action RPGS in some interesting ways, some of which work and some of which don’t. Also it’s totally free.
The way skills are handled is really novel. Every skill is linked to a gem that can be attached to a piece of gear, while leveling let’s you gain new passive skill bonuses. There are 3 colours and the slot in the gear must match the colour of the gem. It’s a neat system because it turns abilities into loot and let’s you swap your skills whenever you want.
The game also features heavily randomized dungeons, but areas have at most one checkpoint and they tend to be rather buried in the areas. This, coupled with an abysmal map, can lead to serious frustration when back tracking for quests or loot.
Also worth noting is the login system. As a new player you are given the option to have Steam handle the login process. This means you never have to type any login information again. Given that a small studio from New Zealand can deliver such a seamless login system, hopefully the days of ridiculous multilevel login systems are numbered.
Path of Exile is definitely worth playing if you’re a fan of the genre but by the end of one playthrough neither my wife nor I were very interested in starting the next difficulty.
I’ve also been playing Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies and I’m really liking it. The look of the game has been perfectly translated from 2D to 3D and the stereoscopic 3D depth is among the best I’ve seen on the system. Many people complained that the game is too easy but I found some of the solutions in earlier games to be seemingly arbitrary and often rely on trial and error, so I’m OK with the change.
Last, I played through The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I don’t have much to say about it that hasn’t already been said countless other places, but it was the best Zelda game since Link’s Awakening, and it did right everything that I though Skyward Sword did wrong. The overworld felt big and was fun to explore and the controls were tight and responsive.
I finally completed The Last of Us, after letting it sit on the shelf for most of least year with only 3 hours put into it. Mostly I agree with this video by the awesome Errant Signal. I spent a lot of time annoyed that I was playing yet another game where the main thing you do is shoot rooms full of guys and hide behind chest-high walls. I understand that stealth is an option, but I felt that the game rarely actually wanted to use it. It feels like we’ve all been playing more or less the exact same AAA game over and over since Resident Evil 4.
It is a very good version of that game, though. I found the world amazing and the story to be quite solid by the end.
The other thing I’ve been playing is Banjo-Tooie on XBLA. Banjo-Kazooie was one of my favorite games when it came out, but when I picked up Tooie on N64 I found it to be too large and complicated to fathom. I just wasn’t having fun, especially with the inconsistent frame rate. After having a surprisingly great time revisiting Kazooie on XBLA (seriously, a lot of that game holds up really well), I decided to give its sequel another try. About 45 minutes in, I got overwhelmed again and stopped.
Only very recently have I jumped back in, and I started feeling better once I got my bearings. The game’s ambition is actually really astounding, kind of a look into what the future of Mario 64-like platformers would have been. Including heavy Metroidvania elements is genius, even if it can be pretty clunky at times. I definitely want more games like this, a vast, open light-hearted world where your main goal is to explore and dig for secrets.
I’ve been playing tons of games the last two months, but none had an impact on me like The Last of Us did. I picked up the PS3 title during Boxing Day deals knowing I was getting a great game but not expecting being absolutely knocked off by it, especially its ending. I’ve finished the game a couple of weeks ago and I’m still contemplating the ending; and I truly hope they’ll never ever release a sequel to it. The game can stand on its own. The gameplay mechanics, tightly mixing brutal combat and stealth, are as refined as you can expect coming from Naughty Dog even if they are by no mean revolutionary. But, it’s the evolution of the relation between Joel and Ellie, the game’s main protagonists, that is the core of the experience. I’ve found myself becoming deeply attached to them. I don’t want to give away the ending, assuming some of you might haven’t played the game yet, but it’s a courageous and authentic ending, something that is rarely seen in the realm of video games. This is coming from someone who usually don’t care much about elaborate stories in video games since they more often than not come as pretty dumb to me. I wasn’t moved by The Last of Us, I was literally floored. Yet, I’ll probably never go back to the game, beyond it’s nicely crafted gameplay, I doubt I could endure the game’s bleak nature again. But, I’ll never forget it and if I had played it before, it would have been my game of the year for 2013.
I’ve also finally played Asura’s Wrath on the PS3, which could be described as if Telltale Games were making an anime on crack-cocaine. It’s ludicrous, huge and features lots of quick-time events and light combat along giant gods that are yelling at each other while destroying their surroundings. Simplistic gameplay aside, I’ve been enjoying the game setting quite a bit with its mix of Greek mythology, buddhism aesthetic and Japanese eccentricities. It’s short, around 6 hours, so if you’re in for something unique, I would recommend finding it on the cheap.
I also had an evening with Proteus, on the PS3. It was an outworldly experience that kept me glued to my TV for almost 3 hours. It’s a visually striking video game too, one of the best I’ve seen and the audio is phenomenal or to quote someone which I’ve unfortunately lost the source: “It’s the best song I have ever played”
UnEpic, a rather huge one-man indie title for the Wii U eShop, has been taking quite a bit of my time recently. It might not look like much, but its gameplay, heavily influenced by Metroidvania games, particularly Symphony of the Night, hooked me and UnEpic proved to be the perfect little game for Off-TV gaming time on the couch.
Finally, don’t ever get Batman: Arkham Origins, for whatever platform. It’s an awfully designed game with tons of game-breaking bugs and glitches, probably one of the most sloppy games I have ever played in the recent years.
Carl Matthew Johnson
The main new game for me in the last month has been Super Metroid on the Wii U Virtual Console. My last experience with Super Metroid was when I emulated it on my computer in college. At that time, I got to the part where you need a Varia suit to proceed, got lost, and quit playing. I had always felt guilty about never getting around to buying the game, and Jeremy Parish has been doing a great Anatomy of Super Metroid blog series, so I decided that the Q1 videogame release lull was a nice time to fill in the gap in my gaming history.
With that out of the way, let me say, Super Metroid does not hold up. Shocking words, I know, but it’s true. (Bear in mind, that I really enjoyed Metroid: Zero Mission and Metroid Fusion, so I’m not a total newbie when it comes to Metroid games.)
There are two main problems with Super Metroid. The first is that the game is very opaque about when you are failing because you are doing the wrong thing versus when you are failing because you suck at the controls. Take wall jumping. In Mario games, you wall jump by being near a wall and pressing jump. Very simple. In Super Metroid, you need to spin jump (and don’t get me started on spin jumps versus regular jumps!), get near a wall, be pressing the d-pad into the wall, hit the wall, press the d-pad in the other direction, then hit jump again. It’s a timing nightmare, and the game gives you no cues to help you out. The Space Jump also has terrible timing, and the less said about Maridia’s water levels, the better. Another example: In the corridor leading to Ridley’s lair, there are some metallic space pirates. You just earned the Screw Attack and used it to destroy the other pirates waiting in the previous rooms. If you try your Screw Attack and other weapons, they all seemingly have no effect on the metallic space pirates. A reasonable conclusion is that you will need some new super-weapon to beat them, so you might go off in search of one. That is wrong. In fact, the metallic space pirates are briefly vulnerable after they kick you then turn yellow, but they are so strong that even a few super-missiles won’t finish them off, so even if you think to try you might not notice that you’re having an effect. The game is totally opaque about this sort of thing.
The other major problem with the game is the thing that people often praise about it: the maps make no sense whatsoever, and you have to backtrack all over the place. The one concession the game makes is to include a mini-map, which is nice, but for no obvious reason, the mini-map does not have symbol for doors on it. This means the only practical options you have are to memorize every room, make your own map (yeah, right), or use a map from the web. While you’re using a web FAQ, you may think to try reading about where to go next. Here is a quote from a popular GameFAQ on Super Metroid:
Set a power bomb to open the way forward, and through the green door we
go. Set another power bomb, and fall through the passageway, to another,
more odd purple room, crawling with snail like creatures that bounce
around when you run into them. Do a speed boosting run all the way to
the right-hand side of the room (still on the bottom level), and when
you get to the last vertical shaft above your head, do a vertical ultra
jump, sending you blowing through several speed blocks, arriving in a
secret chamber with MISSILES <M:190> and SUPER MISSILES <SM:45>. Fall
through the collapsing hole (which is before the super missiles – heh,
watch out for them before collect ’em). Now, perform another speed
boosting run to the left-hand side of the room this time, and stop in
the area before the red door and before the passage you fell from to
enter the area. You will spot a blue door — enter it.
This FAQ makes no damn sense. It’s an uninterpretable soup of “go here and here and here.” Because each room connects randomly to three other rooms and contains three secret missile upgrades, the FAQs are basically unreadable. You have to scan the text very carefully for a distinguishable landmark—in this case, the kickable snails—and use that to guess where you are in relation to where you should be. For some reason, none of the people who made FAQs for Super Metroid back in the early 2000s had the very obvious insight that you need to include screenshots of the mini-map to explain what you’re talking about or else it will be indecipherable. As a result, you can’t make progress in Super Metroid without just going back to every old room every time you get a new weapon.
Which is not to say that Super Metroid is all bad. The atmosphere is incredible. Playing it on a 50″ plasma TV really shows off how well done the pixel art was, and you can totally see the influence of the Alien movie series on the game. There are often very clever bits of game play engineering where the designers predict that you will shoot at X and thereby stumble into Y. But on the whole, it just doesn’t play nearly as well as it successors. It’s an important bit of history, but hard to recommend to anyone who missed it the first time around.
Postscript: Fellow Rebel François points out that both of my two issues are solved in a replay of the game, since you know generally what you need to do and where you need to go. That means that all you have to do to make Super Metroid a really, great game is play it through a second time.
I apologize in advance for all of the Steam advocacy/shilling, but I’m pretty sure the service is experiencing a renaissance. Onward!
I didn’t really follow the Broken Age Kickstarter updates, nor the documentary series — less because I was disinterested than I didn’t want to hype myself up and have to count the days until Act 1 became available. All I knew going in was there was a boy, there was a girl, and it had an oil painting art style. (How could this be a game??) Apart from being one of the first video game projects to be backed on Kickstarter, this was also the first one I personally backed that was finally going to have a release. Was the wait going to be worth it? Any reservations I may have harbored about that or the quality, or the decision to break the game into two parts fell away the moment I saw the title screen. I played the girl first, and was absolutely stunned by the graphical approach to this game. It plays smooth, it’s gorgeous, and the voice acting is just superb. The experience is absolutely seamless; despite that I knew I was playing an adventure game, none of the usual pitfalls were apparent. It was just an absolute joy to play. So, of course, it wasn’t long before I played the boy as well, and finished Act 1. It’s such a natural stopping point, I have to wonder if the decision to split up the game didn’t affect the story somehow — and for the better. Apart from being very funny, occasionally silly, and strangely dark, Broken Age really makes you think. The implications of what I experienced at the end of the Act 1, and how it changed my perceptions of what I had been doing, occupied my mind for days. Double Fine has done something amazing with this game that transcends the formerly-comatose Adventure Game genre. I can’t wait for Act 2. Now that it’s February, you don’t have to wait for Act 1, though; if you weren’t a backer, you can buy the game yourself on Steam for $24.99. I was only a backer, and paid a lot less, but the game is easily worth that much. Or just wait for Act 2 and hope you get a bundle deal, but I absolutely would not be able to wait, and neither should you!
I’ve only played through the still-free the beta for Papers, Please, but I’m sold on this game. You play an immigration control officer for a fictional Soviet satellite country in the 1980s, finding ways to navigate the increasingly-byzantine manual of rules. Failure means a dock in pay (and that your extended family back home will go hungry/freeze/get sick), or worse — a successful terrorist attack on your beloved Arstotzka. Even when you do everything right, sometimes unsavory characters get through, but at least your family will survive. Even if it means letting in a guy who’s quite probably going to kill all of the slave labor in his employ; his papers are all in order. Yeah, you can skirt the rules for moral justice, but little Timmy will probably die of dysentery. Buy Papers, Please on Steam for $9.99. In Arstotzka, Immigration controls You!
The Stanley Parable is an amazing title that not only made me question what it means to play games, but the very nature of existence. This game is meta as #@%^!, and could possibly make your head explode if you play it too long. (Possibly literally; I haven’t played it enough to find out.) Any discussion threatens to ruin the experience for you, suffice to say that everything you do is brutal, humorous examination of “choice” in video games, and the perennial gamer insistence that there should always be more of it, despite the practical consideration that the people actually playing the game must anticipate everything you want to do. Go ahead: just you try to fool the omniscient narrator in The Stanley Parable. I dare you.
Oh yeah, it’s ostensibly about an office worker named Stanley who’s happy just to push the same buttons all day. Except it’s not, even when it is. Stanley is you. Or is it you who is Stanley? It’s a metaphor, or something. But you can non-metaphorically buy it on Steam for $14.99, which I did. In fact, it’s the only Steam game I’ve bought so far this year.
Last, and definitely not least is Pikmin 3, which is making me believe in the Wii U again. I actually bought this game months ago during a Buy-2-Get-1-Free Target sale (you know, before the whole hacking thing), but didn’t open it until later December. Such a mistake; this game is so good. It’s gorgeous, to be sure, and despite its admittedly cutesy nature there’s something just harrowing about amassing an army of sentient plants to do you murderous bidding. I only own and have played the original Pikmin (which, so all you young ‘uns know, was for GameCube), and so far this game seems like a nice blend of the play style of that original and Pikmin 2. The number of in-game “days” you have to play is a throwback to the first game, but that counter goes up the more fruit you can gather to survive on this alien world. I actually never thought fruit-gathering would be so fun, but it’s a lovely mechanic that lets you experience and revisit different areas of the world where your pint-sized crew has crash-landed looking for new food sources for their species. Along the way, you discover a familiar face — and possibly why there’s no “cool stuff” and only fruit laying around for you to gather! The final boss is notoriously difficult, however; I fear those moments are upon me, or will be soon. If not, this boss is definitely making me re-think how much I like the game! Naw, Pikmin 3… I can’t stay mad at you, bro.
Here’s what I played this month:
Super Mario 3D World – Just reached Crown World, the last secret world. Played it a little bit, but wanna save finishing it till I get some buddies over and we can record our playthroughs.
Broken Age – Played it for about an hour. It was lovely, funny, charming, and waaaay more beautiful than I expected. I played it on my apartment’s living room TV and everybody stopped what they were doing to watch the beautiful goddam game. Haven’t gotten back to it since that first hour though (due to busy-ness, not disinterest)
Flappy Bird – Booted it up. Played it three times. I think I got why people like it, but also completely see why it’s totally a fad-game. Have nothing against it at all, but probably won’t play it again.
Shelter – This is the most memorable game I played this month. It’s an imperfect indie game, but the whole point is to impress onto you a certain kind of feeling, and that it does extremely well. I played about 30 min of the game and by the end of my time with it I was twitchy about every and anything that could potentially harm “my babies”.
January was a slow gaming month for me as I had less free time. I still found the time to play games, including some free Playstation Plus games as I finally subscribed to the service!
The first PS+ game I played was DmC: Devil May Cry. I wanted to try it for a while as I’m a pretty big fan of this genre of games and I consider Devil May Cry 3 and 4 to be classics. I was wary of that “modernized” and “westernized” reboot, so free was the right price for me. All in all, the new entry by British developer Ninja Theory was… alright. I was surprised to discover that the gameplay was, from my “average gamer” perspective, almost as good as the one found in DMC 3 and 4 (however, I know “pro players” would disagree). The visual and level design was also surprisingly good, with a few very creative locations and a generally interesting art direction. Unfortunately, the writing was as bad as I expected: where the previous Devil May Cry games were funny, campy and voluntarily ridiculous, DmC tries way too hard to be “cool” and “edgy”, and in the end feels like a My Chemical Romance videoclip. The storyline also tries to talk about issues like media manipulation and consumerism, but it’s ham-fisted and cringe-worthy… It was still a fun game and I wouldn’t mind if Ninja Theory developed the next game in the series, but pretty please, bring back the old tone!
Playing through DmC made me want to replay an old favorite, Bayonetta. Replaying it made me notice how forgiving DmC was: I kept getting SSS ranks (the best one) in it without really trying, while in Bayonetta I got the worst ranking every time I wasn’t 100% focused. The game is still as thrilling as it was when I first played it 4 years ago. Bayonetta 2 can’t come out soon enough…
Another free PS+ game I tried without really knowing what to expect was Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Wow! I had almost never heard of that game except for its name and assumed it would be average at best because of the generic name and the uninspiring protagonists. I was completely wrong! It’s a beautiful and melancholic game with a surprisingly touching story, considering there is not a single spoken word. The game was directed by Swedish film director Josef Fares and it shows, as the game’s cinematography is remarkable. If you enjoy contemplative games like Ico or Journey, you ought to try Brothers, especially if you have a Playstation Plus account as the game is still free!
And you, what have you played?