Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Herdy Gerdy (PS2)

Play Time: 3 hrs

What Happened:
I picked this game up at the local used game store in Albany. It's an older game, so it actually had a real description on the back which caught my interest - this is a game about interacting with different types of animals. :) It's a neat game! You play as Gerdy, who wakes up ready to leave for the annual herding competition with his father - but he won't wake up because he's been placed under a spell by the evil Sandorf. The only way to save your dad is to get to the competition yourself and defeat Sandorf.  

What I Liked:

Animation. Although I think some of the acting doesn't feel in character and is pretty punched up, overall the animation is really cool. The cutscene animation in particular had a lot of time and effort put into it, and it came out really well - especially the facial animation. In game, Gerdy definitely feels like a kid, and has a fun sense of weight and inertia to his movements. 

Character Design. I feel like the character design is derivative of something I've seen before (but for all I know, maybe the same artist I'm thinking of was involved with this game?) - but the character designs were really cool.   

Creature Design. I'm not totally convinced that the characters and the creatures belong in the same world, but the creature design was very playful and I enjoyed seeing new creatures as the game progressed. 

World. I liked the way that the levels were laid out. They felt big and fun to explore, without being so vast that I felt lost. I also generally enjoyed the level art. The world has a nice feel to it.

Concept. Look at this combat free game! ;) You just chase animals into pens, and it's pretty satisfying. 

What I Didn't Like:

UI. It was pretty sloppy in places, and felt like an afterthought. 

Loading Screens. :) It's an old game, so I don't know how much could have been done about it, but the loading times were pretty brutal. You were left with an illustration and a loading bar. The first loading screen at the start of the game didn't give any real indication of what was happening, and the first time I played I thought the game had crashed. :) A simple "loading" would have helped. 

Lack of Direction? The first level didn't really tell me what to do, I just sort of assumed after awhile that I should be herding some animals. There were a couple of other times where I wasn't really clear on what I should be doing. 

Voice Acting. Some of the voice acting was a little weak, which was a big deal since the whole game is fully voiced. Gerdy is alright, but you can tell that some of the NPCs got a little less attention. 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Well, I haven't picked this up since I first checked it out in September. ;) I think the 3 hours I got out of it was worthwhile though, and I could see coming back to it for future reference. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) - Session 3

Total time: 9 hours
"Session" isn't really the right word, since I've picked this up and put it down a number of times - but I just picked it up again for the first time in a month, and I still like this game! I've reached 9 hours of gameplay (which for me... is a big deal)

Real entry to follow. :) 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Rock of Ages (XBLA) - Demo

Play Time: ~20min
What Happened: 

I found out about this game a couple of weeks ago through their "Rock Beats Everything" trailer which was posted on Indiegames.com a few weeks ago - so when I noticed it on XBLA I had to check out the demo. Game play has been described as tower defense meets Super Monkey Ball. There are 2 modes of gameplay: a third person view where you roll your rock through the level towards your enemies gates, crushing defenses to earn money along the way, and a top down view where you can buy and place defenses to slow down your opponent who is also a ball (tower defense part). Your goal is to crash into their gate with as much force as possible to eventually break it down (in the demo, this took 2-3 runs), before your opponent breaks your gate down. In addition to buying defenses, you can buy different types of rocks, for example, heavier ones which deal more damage.

What I Liked:

Visuals! Very cool game! I love the mixture of different styles - in particular the juxtaposition of 2D and 3D elements. The cinematics seemed heavily influenced by Monty Python, and were extremely playful. The overall sense of place was very unreal and different -- in some ways it felt as though you were playing with toys or miniatures, but there was always a sense of atmospheric depth that made you feel like you were in a huge space. There are also a lot of decorative elements, which are uncommon in 3D spaces. Very cool. :) 

Sounds. Before you squish Vlad the Impaler, he screams like a little girl. It's very satisfying.

Premise. I think the idea of this game is very cool. There seem to be more and more variations on tower defense which allow you to traverse the course itself - and this is a neat spin on it. I found the act of rolling along trying to squish things without rolling off of the course, or losing too much momentum, very fun.

Purchasing. I think the defense options were fun. The demo only featured a few - simple structures, cows (which slow you down A LOT), exploding barrels. They were all unique in that they presented different sorts of challenges, and they all fit well within the playful tone of the game.I also think it's really cool that you can choose different types of rocks -- for me that was the better incentive for collecting money (at least at the early stage I was at).

What I Didn't Like:

Tower Defense. Personally, I felt the tower defense aspect was confusing - but I don't think I've gotten deep enough into the game to really say if it works or doesn't. You and the enemy rock both traverse the same path - so when you are placing defenses, you're creating obstacles for yourself at the same time. I guess the idea is that you should use your knowledge of the course and be able to keep track of things you've set up in order to avoid them? My issue was that I was placing things pretty willy nilly, and as soon as I went into 3rd person camera mode, I completely forgot the layout. Also, from what I could tell, your defenses and your enemy's defenses look the same, so I was never really sure if I was smashing my own defenses or the enemy's.... :) Probably most importantly, in the demo, I never got to a point where I felt like I was in any real danger from the enemy, so I wasn't that interested in trying to place things strategically - which means I sort of missed out on like, half of the game. 

AI. I'm pretty sure in the 2nd level, the enemy ball got completely stuck for the duration of the level... Also, overall, I was never particularly concerned about what the enemy was doing. I think this mostly comes from the fact that it was the demo/beginning of the game, so the AI was still very easy to beat. 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Unfortunately - this game made me pretttty motion sick by the end of 20min!!! :( That being said, I'm not sure if I would have bought it anyway, because I found the tower defense aspect so confusing, and I assume it only would have escalated in difficulty. I hope other people (maybe those more familiar with the tower defense genre?) understand it better than me and buy the crap out of this game! I think overall it's a really neat idea and I hope it does well! :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) - Session 2

Total Time Played: 5.5 hours

What Happened:

I progressed through the woods collecting light tears to revive a Guardian of Light, and then completed the Forest Temple.

What I Liked:

Spin move charge. This is such a small thing, but after you use your spin move, you have to wait for a short period before you can use it again. You are alerted that your waiting period is over by a glint of light that briefly shines on the tip of your sword, and a satisfying sound effect. It's simple, magical, and communicates the point well.

Monkeys! At the start of the dungeon, you save a monkey who guides you through the first couple of rooms. As you progress, you find that you need to save all of the monkeys that are trapped in the temple, in order for them to help you progress forward by making chains for you to swing on. I love the idea of helping a character which then helps you in turn. Also it's fun when you first save them and they follow or lead you for a bit. They have a fun sense of character.

Dungeon. Now that I have the first real dungeon out of the way, I can say that I liked it!! It was very similar to the dungeon setup from Ocarina - wander around, solve puzzles to get through it all. It felt huge, but it was broken down into what felt like manageable chunks and I didn't feel overwhelmed or very lost (I generally get really lost.... which still happened a couple of times... but it was ok!!)

What I Didn't Like:

Puzzle Lock. So I've given in to the fact that every once in awhile, I'm going to need to use a walkthrough when I get stuck - particularly since I'm such a high risk for just quitting a game when I lose interest. In this case, there were 2 puzzles I couldn't beat (the next one mentioned below). There was a door with 4 towers next to it - which had been previously established to react to boomerang wind. Mostly I just tried to see if I could spin all 4 of them at once, which I could not. Later in the level, I encountered a similar door with 2 towers, which seemed like it opened because I was able to spin both at once -- so I went back and kept trying to spin all 4 at once. Midna said something cryptic at one point about how this was a 'sophisticated lock' and I couldn't just open it with wind, or something... but I was stuck. I look online, and it seems that you're supposed to hit the 4 towers in a specific order. Nothing about the situation made me think there was a solution like that.. no feedback, just failure.

Boomerang. Here's another case where I got stuck - apparently you can lock onto multiple things with your boomerang before you fire it. I'm not really sure how I was ever supposed to figure that one out, since it's the only weapon that works this way. :)It was not obvious to me.

Not enough reward for cutting grass. A Zelda staple is finding things by cutting grass and breaking pots - but I feel in this game that the percentage of grass clumps that actually contain anything is very low - which eventually lead me to just not do it.

Death fog. When the Faron Woods is covered in fog, if you walk into it it instantly kills you. The penalty for death isn't that high so it's not so bad, but it was a complete surprise when it first happened.

Climbing. The climbing animation is excruciatingly slow for seemingly no reason. Maybe eventually a reason will become apparent, but for now it's just slow.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?

I really want to keep playing - the only problem now is that it has to compete for my attention against Catherine. So far, Catherine is winning. :)

Catherine (360)

Time Played: 2 hours

What Happened:

Ok, I'm just going to start out by saying that I'm really, really enjoying this game. I've been hearing mention of it off and on (mostly through Kotaku) but I didn't know what to expect (for awhile I wasn't sure if it was like, a hentai game), and had a hard time deciding if I should pick it up. Finally it was through a friends' recommendation and the ign review that got me to pick it up.

I think the main reason for any confusion is that this game doesn't fit neatly into any sort of category, and it's pretty hard to explain. I can't even really think of a 'this + this' type of comparison from other games I've played... In Catherine, you play as a 32 year old programmer whose girlfriend, Katherine, is pushing him towards marriage, and he's not too gung ho about it. It triggers his first nightmare - in which he must climb up a course of blocks, pushing and pulling them to create his path. After this, back in real life, he ends up having a one night stand with another woman, Catherine. Now the nightmares intensify.

Gameplay consists mainly of the block climbing sections, which are broken up into stages, with rest areas were you can buy items, talk to other sheep (forgot to mention - the dream world is filled with sheep, which seem to be other men in the same situation as you, who see you as a sheep), save and learn climbing strategies. Back in the real world, you hang out at a bar, where you can talk to people, play an arcade game which lets you practice climbing techniques, and get and reply to messages on your phone (your choices about how to reply and speak to people move a red v blue meter - and I'm assuming change what ending you get). There's a lot of cinematic watching where the story moves forward, but I always felt engaged and interested. It's primarily a story game - you want to know what's going to happen with this guy, and the "Woman's Wrath" which seems to be causing other men to go through the same dream experience as you - and maybe even dying in the real world.

What I Liked:

Presentation. This game got my attention right away with the title screen. All UI elements are awesome to look at and flow well. I love how you can save the game from your cell phone in the real world, and from the sign in book in the dream world.

Credits. Emphasizing the fact that it's a story game, it starts off with a really neat credit sequence which shows all of the voice actors. It's a nice cinematic touch that builds up a great sense of anticipation that you're about to experience something cool.

Tutorial. It's so much easier when something is set in a dream, isn't it? The tutorial is mostly done by a disembodied voice, with the main character constantly questioning what the heck is going on. I think the information was presented very clearly and was easy to understand. What's really cool is that when you are leaning from other sheep in the rest spots, they explain via text, but also show a video of the specific strategy that they're explaining. I think this was the best way to handle teaching the player.

Animation. The facial animation was really great, as it had to be considering how much of the story is conveyed in 3D cutscenes. I was particularly impressed with the mouth shapes they were able to get with 3D characters - they were able to get a lot of the types of shapes that you generally only see in anime, which was cool. Other than the face, the character full body animations were great in gameplay. In the dream world rest spots, your walk is more of a panicky stagger. You clutch a pillow to your chest. When you're doing block puzzles, you scramble from block to block, full of fear and without dignity. In the bar, you walk with your hands in your pockets, ashamed since everyone in there at this point knows that you're a cheater.

Visuals. I'm clearly a fan of anime style, and I think the characters and environments in this game are beautifully done. The dream world is interesting, particularly at the rest spots.

Showing answers online. This was a great surprise! When you move from a rest spot in the dream world to the next puzzle, you sit in a confessional and answer a single question which is meant to define your character. After you answer, you're shown how everyone else playing this game connected to XBox Live answered the same question. It's really awesome.

Arcade machine. The bar has an arcade machine called Rapunzel which is mostly identical to the dream sequences, but you don't have a time limit, so it lets you practice techniques. There is an opening story sequence, and the art for the whole game is done in a charming, simplified style.

Item system. Ahhh, a nice simple item system. You pick up items along the way through the puzzle - they do different things, like getting rid of sheep that are in your way, creating a block where you want to, or changing blocks into the basic type. When you pick up a new item, you discard your previous item. You can buy items in the rest spots, but only what the seller has on sale at that particular time.

What I Didn't Like:

Some voice acting. Look at this, I'm totally nit-picking! This just goes to show that there really wasn't a lot that I didn't like so far. A couple of the characters' voices really bothered me a lot: the afro "Golden Players" character, and Catherine. Honestly though, I think it was because this game was translated from Japanese, so it's run into the problem that dubbed anime does as well - some 'types' of voices just don't translate - such as the deep, sexy voice that I'm sure the afro woman had, and particularly the high-pitched, sweetheart schoolgirl voice that Catherine probably had. The dub tries to copy the feeling of the original voice acting - and sometimes it really doesn't work.

2D-3D transitions. I often found myself wondering why some cinematics were 2D and some were 3D... but as I'm typing it right now the answer is pretty obvious from a practical point of view. It would have been too expensive to make all of the cinematics 2D, whereas 3D is cheaper and easier to create. For more action oriented sequences, 2D makes sense, since it would require a lot more work to create so many assets and more complicated animations in 3D -- and for talking scenes which often transition directly to gameplay anyway, 3D works well. So yeah... question answered. But as a player, sometimes the transition felt really weird.

Misunderstanding broken traps. At first I thought the difficulty had just ramped up impossibly in one level, but in fact I had misread a piece of information. Some of the blocks are traps, which almost instantly shoot out needles which make you die in a bloody explosion - and at first understanding, they are instantly deadly. At one point however, they show a sheep move quickly over the trap without getting killed. Issam's instincts were good - "maybe you can do that too" - but my first reading was still 'instant death' so I refused to even try it. Then we ran into a section which seemed impossibly hard in relation to what had come before it - and we eventually (maybe after 15min of struggle?) realized that you could indeed break traps. So yeah, totally my mistake --- but I definitely got stuck for a bit.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?
I want to be playing it right now! It also definitely worked its way into my dreams last night. It leaves that Tetris-block after-image effect when you close your eyes to go to bed - you find that you're still trying to pull blocks.

From Dust (XBLA)

Play Time: ~1hr (Demo)

What Happened:
Another Summer of Arcade game! I've been following this one for awhile, so I was excited to see that the demo was out.

In From Dust, you control "The Breath" - a spirit which can pick up and put down sand and water (and maybe other things beyond the demo?). You guide a group of men to set up villages in different environments. You pick a goal for them to traverse to (in the demo, you mostly send them to totem pillars to start villages), and then they pathfind on their own along the terrain. Your job is primarily to help create a path for them, by picking up dirt and making walkways across the water. In the last level of the demo, you also guide a single scout to a knowledge stone - he needs to bring back knowledge about how to save the village from a tsunami, and you have a limited amount of time to do it.

What I Liked:

Visuals. Really pretty game. I think that's primarily why it's been getting so much attention. The cutscenes between the levels and during the intro are beautiful and well done. The world is inviting, and you want to play around in it.

Idea. Very cool idea - although so far very simple seeming (I can't help but think that there's a lot more to this game when you move beyond the demo).

Satisfying. Sucking up and dropping sand is surprisingly satisfying! It just, feels right - and the visuals and sound really help. You can tell that a lot of time and effort was put into making this feel correct as it is the core of gameplay.

What I Didn't Like:

End of demo. The end of the demo was really abrupt and sort of confusing. I'm still not sure if I actually got to the end, or just failed somehow... but then, it's just a demo. ;) I assume they were busy putting more polish into the actual game itself.

Uncertainty. Even as I wrote out the gameplay description, I started to wonder if that was really all there was to gameplay, or that I'd missed a lot of stuff. I followed along with the tutorial and what they told me to do.. but I wonder if you can do a lot more if you play around more? I should look it up. :) There were a few moments in the demo where I honestly felt confused about how things should be working - in one case, I sent men to a totem and built them a pathway... but then only 3 out of 5 went there, and nothing really happened for a long time. Eventually just by playing I put some more dirt there -- and then they came. As I was saying above, it's probably just a case where this is a game where you need to discover more things on your own, and I missed that fact.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?

Honestly, I'm not sure! It definitely has my interest, but it never really got to a point in the demo where I felt like I could see where it was going. It all depends on the level design, really - when I'm doing playing through Catherine and Twilight Princess, I might buy the full version just out of curiosity.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

Time Played: 2:30

What Happened:

I've been playing Ocarina of Time (n64) over the last few weeks, so when I saw the price-dropped version of Twilight Princess I figured it was finally time for me to pick it up. ;)

So far, it's easily comparable to Ocarina - simple combat, linear storyline, interesting world to explore. You operate on cues from talking to people to advance the story forward. The story starts off with Link doing chores and helping people in his village - right before he is supposed to set out to Hyrule to deliver something, Twilight overcomes the land and he is turned into a wolf - and the adventure begins.

What I Liked:

Sense of Place. This was something that I always liked about Ocarina too - it's an engaging world. The various sections of environment feel different from each other, and are interesting to explore - but there is an overall sense of connectedness in that you feel like you are exploring a single world. My first thought in this game was "I want to go there" - and I spent a significant amount of time postulating about creating a Zelda themepark someday when I have millions of dollars to throw around. ;)

Sense of Character. Another thing that Ocarina had going for it, for the most part, I think this game pushes it a little farther. Each character that you interact with, no matter how bit the part, has a distinct personality and a sense of purpose. This individuality is also expressed through their character design. In the beginning of the game, I found that I liked the villagers - I wanted to help them, just because they seemed like nice people. Once Midna enters the story, things get interesting - she is the driving personality of this game. I think she is a compelling blend of helpful, likable and obnoxious, which makes me react to her, positively or negatively. :) Also, I love her design.

Gameplay. This is the sort of game that I really enjoy: I'm getting to explore a world that's interesting just to walk around, but there's the right amount of direction and purpose to keep me interested. I'm constantly getting to do different types of things - I'm not just button mashing down bad guys for 10 hours - I'm walking, climbing and swimming through a level, using long ranged weapons, solving puzzles, talking to people. I need to be paying attention for clues about what to do next. It's a balance that I really enjoy.

Mini-Quests. I always liked the mini-quests in Ocarina - but in Twilight Princess so far, things which seem like mini-quests have been necessary to move the story forward. This is a neat approach - at first you sort of feel like you're being nice just to be nice, but it's the only way to actually progress. ;)

Imagination. That combination of story and sense of place and character totally has me hooked. I've turned into a wolf and I don't know why! There's this thing helping me and I have no idea what her intentions are! I want to live in Hyrule.

What I Didn't Like:

Pause menu. The inventory UI is pretty bad looking. It's not important, but I made a note about it.

Combat. I think combat is fun overall, but pretty clumsy. I frequently lose whatever I'm targeting, and don't notice, and hack and slash at nothing for awhile... combat is kept pretty easy, so I never really get frustrated by it, but I feel that it's one of the less elegant aspects of the game.

Handling. Handling gets a little sloppy in tight spaces - particularly when you're a wolf.

Horse Riding. Also sloppy handling - I don't like how Epona immediately bursts into a sprint when I get control of her. In tighter spaces, like next to your house, it usually ends up getting you stuck behind a log or a sign that happened to be in front of her. That being said, she's something that you're riding, so it wouldn't necessarily feel correct for her to handle the same as Link.

Slow Buildup? Took a little while for the story to get started - but then, I didn't get bored so maybe it's ok. Also it gave me a chance to feel attached to the world before it came under danger - so maybe this actually belongs in the positives now that I think about it. :)

Navi? Not really sure what's going on with my fairy. No one else has one, no one talks about mine, she doesn't have a personality. She could really just be a reticle at this point, which makes me a little sad.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I want to keep playing! (In fact, I have been - another update to follow soon.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bastion (XBLA)

Time Played: 15-20min (Trial Game)

What Happened:

Issam and I tried Bastion for a few minutes at PAX East, but we couldn't hear any of the audio and I've been meaning to check it out again. Since it's part of Summer of Arcade, I downloaded the trial last night. Basically this is an action RPG with really cool art, and a hinted at story in which information is conveyed as you need it - for example, I'm headed towards the "Bastion" but I don't know what hat it, and there was an event called the "Calamity" but I don't know what that is --- but it makes me want to know. :)

You primarily hit things with a hammer, but you also get a couple of different ranged attacks, and can choose (as in most action RPGS) what stats you want to boost, and some degree of what attacks you'd like to use. I've encountered a couple different types of AI, which tend to swarm you in most cases (also like most Action RPGs), and there are also some ranged AI (see below). There is a hub, but I don't know a lot about it yet, since I just played the trial. So far I was able to get information from the "Stranger" character who hangs out there (who is also the narrator ;) ), and choose if I wanted to build an armory or distillery. Then I used a portal to progress to the next level (where the trial ends).

What I Liked:

Art. Clearly very cool, as everyone is talking about it. :) But that also brings me to a negative - it's so cool that I often wished the camera was closer in. Usually the information you need is contained in the center of the screen, so there's not much need for the wide angle of view. I could see this being done strictly for the mood and composition - like, you're this small thing in this big floating, mysterious world - but even still. Particularly because the art is so pretty it would be cool to be a little more up close and feel as though I'm part of the world. It could still be isometric. I'm just glad I finally got an HDTV or this game would have been impossible to play.

Narration. This is the main reason that people are talking about this game and it makes sense. It's pretty cool. :) You feel like you're in the middle of a story while it's being told, and like I mentioned above, you get little snippets of information that make you curious about what's going on - like mentions of the Bastion or the Calamity.

Story. Basically the same as what I was saying above - there's a story that's hinted at, and it's intriguing. I didn't actually learn anything during the demo though - I wonder how much you actually get to find out during the game. That being said, it still didn't hook me quite enough to make me keep at it to find out. I guess I still needed more mystery.

Limited Moves/Heal (Whirlwind). The only thing that seemed a little different from most Action RPGs was that your special move was linked to collectibles - you collected up to 3 bottles of, I guess, alcohol, and each allowed you to perform your special attack once. They were plentiful enough that you could do the move fairly often, but just rare enough that you tried to be smart about it. I guess it was really the same set up as any game which gives you a mana bar - but it was represented by items instead of a gauge. You also were able to heal fairly often - you refilled your '3 swigs of potion' each time you encountered a fountain (which felt often enough). But yeah, I like being able to heal often. ;)

Fall off World. Just as an interesting note, you can fall off of the world. There didn't seem to be a penalty that I noticed - maybe your health bar goes down a little to prevent you from using it as a strategy? I thought it was neat though - after all, you are on a floating island.

Stranger. In the hub you run into an NPC with the title of "Stranger" - who is the narrator! I thought that was a neat touch, to give him a face and a place in the world. I also liked that after you asked him all of the questions he had available, you'd encounter an empty menu and the phrase "sometimes, there's just not much to talk about".

Length of Trial. For me, this was a good trial length. Games get about 5-10min to get my attention, and as is clear from my journal, I usually play in really short chunks. ;) I feel like I got a pretty good sense of what this game was about.

What I Didn't Like:

Traversal Speed. You're just a hair too slow. Sometimes you don't notice... but sometimes you really do. This seems to be the case in a lot of isometric games - I wonder why.

Distillery. This is totally a personal preference thing - but as I said at the top, you occasionally come across distilleries which let you alter your stats. 10% speed increase while blocking, etc. I just really don't care for this stuff - I never really feel that it makes enough of a difference to be noticeable. Clearly they can't dramatic alter the way that you play the game, or it would be hard to balance.. so I sort of feel like I'm pretending to do something. That or maybe I just never play these games long enough, and it actually does make a difference over time... but I never really want to be thinking about numbers when I'm playing a game.

Arsenal. In addition to the distilleries, there are arsenals where you choose your weapons and special moves. I actually just really found this confusing. There are 3 slots - which at this point in the game you really only have 3 weapons anyway (hammer, ranged weapon, special attack) so I poked around and managed to switch which button did what... I guess I just needed more of an explanation. :)

Ranged Weapons. Somewhere in the first half of the trial I got a ranged weapon (I can't think of what it was called... but basically a crossbow) - and then at some point later I got a bow and arrow. I never really figured out if I lost the original weapon? Maybe this is where I should have been paying more attention in the armory, and I had a choice of what to use? But when I picked up the bow I didn't know I was going to lose the ability to use the other weapon, so that was confusing.

Ranged Combat. Ranged combat is super annoying when you use the bow and arrow. There are stationary ranged AI which shoot a semi-constant stream of shots at you which you can block with your shield. In order to use your bow and arrow, you have to hold down the button to pull the arrow back - but generally, the amount of time it takes is less than the amount of time between AI shots. Maybe I didn't understand something, but I was basically just getting creamed in every AI section. I never died though... just got creamed.

Going to Next Level. At the end of the demo in the hub, I got stuck for a few minutes because I wasn't sure how to proceed. :) My first instinct was to go towards the 'magical looking thing' at the top of the level, but I didn't see any button prompts near it.. so I wandered around for awhile. Eventually I went back to it - and this time noticed a prompt. It could have been placed better I think - and perhaps the object itself could have looked more like a portal, or something that suggested activity.

Hub. More personal preference, but because I don't tend to care about stats, I never really like hubs. I'd prefer to just move from level to level with minimal interruption. Hubs to me just feel like double the loading screen time. I'm sure I could be convinced of a use for hubs if they offered a little more... but generally they bother me.

AI Swarms. This is just personal preference, obviously, since it's a standard in action RPGs - but I hate AI swarms. They get so tedious.... I actually find that in cases where I don't have to kill AI, I just run away from them after awhile because I'm tired of fighting.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I think this is a beautiful game, and I think the narration is neat -- but other than that, it's really not offering a unique experience. I think the 15-20min trial was good enough for me. Maybe I'll look for some spoilers online if I'm really curious about the story - but I don't feel like battling my way through thousands of AI to figure it out. :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Space Channel 5 (PS2)

Time Played: 1 hour

What Happened:

I've been visiting a couple of local used games stores lately, which sell a lot of older games. It's cool because there really are a ton of games that I missed, and now I get the opportunity to check them out. For example, I got my hands on the PS2 port of this game for about $4, and I'd always wanted to try it.

Basically it's a call and answer music/rhythm game. You get a sequence of inputs to a rhythm and you repeat them back. This one follows a space reporter (who rescues people and carries a laser gun) and focuses on dance. In each level, there is a situation where people are being held hostage by aliens, and you go through a series of sequences where you dance and shoot to save them. Each level seems to feature some sort of rival entertainer (another reporter, a pirate radio personality) that you dance off against, as well as a giant monster boss which requires you to alternate between your 'shooting things' and 'saving things' buttons.

What I Liked:

Over the Top! I'm a big fan of games that celebrate the fact that they are games by being wacky and over the top. The entire premise for this show is ridiculous, and I love it. Is she a reporter, or a crime fighting vigilante? What in the world does dancing have to do with beating aliens? Why do the rescued hostages feel compelled to dance along behind her once you've saved them? How can she walk in those shoes? Who cares? It's super fun.

Dance Choreography. It's primarily a dancing game, and I think the dancing is really well done. It too, is over the top - particularly her 'good' or 'bad' walk from sequence to sequence (in fact, the walk is so funny when you do fail that I don't feel all that bad about doing poorly). Despite some minor foot sliding (and a weird bug where Ulala lost contact with the ground for a whole sequence) the animation looks great.

Structure. I think there is a good mix of types of sequences - there are sections where enemies/hostages pop up and you have to aim & shoot at them to a rhythm, sections that are purely dance, and sections that are purely shooting. The shooting sections are particularly cool, since you get a different dramatic camera shot for each hit. I think the game has a nice mix, so you don't quite feel like you're always doing the same thing, even though you really only have 6 different actions.

Characters. All that same stuff about being over the top can be said about the characters. They're all totally crazy looking and seem to show up for no reason. It's pure joy.

Gameplay! I dunno, music/rhythm is fun! I like when there's a particularly challenging rhythm to repeat and I nail it.

What I Didn't Like:

Timing. This game is totally unforgiving in terms of your input window. I noticed this when I picked up Parappa again maybe 2-3 years ago: there are a lot of time where you could swear you were doing it correctly, but getting negative feedback. This could also just be a product of the game being an older title.

Repetitive? I didn't get sick of it yet, but I also get the feeling I've seen all this game really has to offer in terms of gameplay. Maybe that's just fine though. :) I'll have to play it some more and see if I feel like it gets old - because I hadn't really felt that yet.

Failing. Failing sucks because you have to replay the entire level. I only failed once, but I think if I had failed twice I probably would have quit playing. I think the joy in this game is seeing what's coming up next, so repeating a section lost a lot of the magic.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Overall I think it was fun and I want to check it out some more!

Bit.Trip Series (WiiWare)

I had demoed Bit.Trip Runner at GDC this year and really enjoyed it. It was actually one of the few games where I didn't feel self conscious just picking it up and playing it (more on that below), and so I've been following news about the games. I read at IndieGames.com that there were free demos up for some of the games, so I thought it was a good opportunity to check more of them out. There are more games in the Bit.Trip series, but I only had the opportunity to play Core, Void and Runner.

Bit.Trip Core (2nd in series)
Time Played: ~5min

I'll start with Core since I liked it the least. Honestly, I'm not really sure if I actually figured out what I was supposed to be doing. You control a dark circle, which you can move around the screen as you wish, and white and black dots appear in from the side of the screen (I think they appear to the beat). You can absorb them by moving on top of them. I figured out through sound that absorbing dark spots was good (it made me bigger), and absorbing white was bad (it made a bad sound, and instantly made me small).

This game seemed to have the least to do with the music, and I didn't enjoy the music itself as much. There are points where absorbing a white spot is unavoidable...which I guess is just a standard part of progression (like, you finished this section), but I didn't get a lot of positive feedback, so I never really knew if I was doing it correctly.

Bit.Trip Void (3rd in series)
Time Played: ~10min

This game has a lot of similarity to something like Guitar Hero - there is a plus in the center of the screen, and you hold down a direction on the D pad and tap a button to 'strum' it. This causes a solid line to shoot out from that direction, which catches the pixels which are flying around the screen. As all the other games, this is a music game - you are catching the pixels to the ryhthm of the music.

I think I would have enjoyed Void a lot more if I had found the music to be more compelling. Also, it took me a little bit of time to figure out what to do. But yeah, mainly the music is what would have made this a great game.. as is usually the case with music/rhythm.

Bit.Trip Runner (4th in series)
Time Played 20-30min

Runner is definitely my favorite of the three games - it's also the most polished, and most recent of the 3. Your character runs automatically across a level which scrolls from right to left. You have 3 basic mechanics: jump, slide and kick, and you simply react to what is coming. To time your moves correctly, they all must be triggered in time with the music (funny: I was totally working on a Bollywood game which was the same idea. If I had finished it, it would have been a clone without my even realizing.)

You collect white orbs which bring the game 'to the next level' - the music kicks in another level, and your character eventually grows a rainbow trail. I did well in the first few levels, so it wasn't until the 4th or so that I figured out the game loops until you successfully collect enough of these orbs in succession (so, your goal is actually to reach a certain power level, as opposed to just surviving a linear level). If you hit a hazard, you jump backwards in the level, and your power level is back to one.

I really enjoy this game for a lot of reasons. Primarily, the music makes this game. It starts off pleasant enough, but when you reach the 3rd power level it really kicks in, and it sounds awesome and you feel like a badass. The visuals are simple and very neat. When I looked for images for this writeup I was excited to see that there are other themes to levels than what I saw in the first couple. The timing is unforgiving - you have a very narrow margin of error - but I think that it's just at that sweet spot between being challenging and fun.

As I mentioned above, this is a game that I felt very comfortable picking up and playing - it's extremely easy to figure out what to do. I think it is inviting - I'm not 100% sure if I could convince my mom to try it... but I was happy because I was not intimidated at all. (That being said, players that are rhythmically challenged might feel the exact opposite). The mechanics were introduced individually, one level at a time (although that made the ramp in difficulty seem a little off in the very beginning - the 3rd level was a lot easier than the 2nd level -- but I don't think it matters too much since the point was really just that you got the mechanic.)

This game actually has been calling to me since I played it on Sunday. :) I really want to pick it up again, simply because the mechanics are so fun. (I think the pull for me might be similar to Geometry Wars - which I also need to write about at some point).

***UPDATE** SO I just bought the full version of Bit.Trip Runner and I was completely wrong about progression. :) Apparently all you actually have to do is survive the level to progress to the next one. The gold and levels are all just bonuses. If you make a mistake, you get teleported back to the beginning of the level. After 45min of playing, I'm thinking the penalty is too high, and gets extremely frustrating during longer levels. I think I'll still keep playing it though.

I'm curious to play Fate & Flux, which came after Runner.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Lost Vikings (SNES)

Time Played: 2 hours

What Happened:

It felt like this game came up a lot in conversation during the last few months, so I wanted to play it to really understand what everyone was talking about.

If you're like me, and didn't play it when it came out in 1995, the game works like this: you control 3 different vikings. You can only control one at a time, and must get all 3 of them through various traversal puzzles (stuff like finding keys, avoiding enemies, hitting switches, getting over pits). They all possess different abilities - they have multiple abilities, but at a simplified level, one can block, one can jump, and one can fight. If any of them dies, you fail the level. You can restart the level at any time because it is possible to get stuck.

What I Liked:
Mechanics. And of course this is the reason that people remember and bring up the game. The idea of controlling 3 characters and using them cooperatively is really cool, and hasn't used in a lot of other games. I like it because you build a different connection with each character - in one level I think the shield guy is the best and most useful, and I'm extra fond of him, then in the next it's all about the jumping guy. ;) I think because there are 3 you feel as though you are working with them, as opposed to 'being' one of them, and I think that this is a near paradigm. The levels were well designed to make you use all of them, and value all 3 of them.

Music. The music was energetic, which is something I always appreciate - especially in puzzle games. I particularly liked the spaceship level music.

Environments. I thought the overall levels were cool. Levels progressed through themes - for example the first few were on a spaceship, and so art was reused across those levels, the next few were jungle levels, and then caves. I liked the visuals and was excited to see what was coming up next.

What I Didn't Like:
No narrative. Not that this is really a problem, I just suspect that this is why I haven't picked the game back up, and what makes me think of it as a 'rainy day' game. Nothing is really calling out to me - I feel that I have seen the basics of what this game has to offer, and continued gameplay will offer more of the same.

Communication. This is a game from 1995, so I'm not going to be super harsh - but there were a few times that I got stuck just because things were not communicated well. For example, in one of the spaceship levels, a piece of artwork is meant to be viewed as a foreground element that you walk behind, but I read it as a wall, and got completely stuck in the level until Issam pointed it out. There's also on where you ride in bubbles - but when I first saw the bubbles it was completely inconceivable that I would be able to ride in one of them. :) I think this has much more to do with it being 16 years old.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I had fun and I'm interested in picking it up again. That being said, it's a puzzle game, so there's no overall story which is drawing me back in to it, which I think is why I haven't picked it up in the month since I first played it. I would personally classify this as another rainy day game - fun if I want to kill some time, but it's certainly not calling to me from the shelf.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (360)

Play time: ~1 hour

What Happened:
So I played the 1st 15min twice because the power went off the first time I was playing it. :) I like Journey to the West type stuff (mainly Dragonball), and I like the concept of games where you help a partner AI character survive (Ico) so I've definitely been interested in this game for awhile.

I played it for about an hour on Sunday. The story is that you're.. some guy (who sort of has a NY accent that you don't notice for awhile) who was imprisoned on a ship for some reason gets busted out when this girl destroys the ship. While escaping you find out about these devices that kill people when they disobey the rules (one of the workers on the ships talks to you to tell you he can't talk to him, and the computer kills him). After the ship goes down, you wake up to find that the girl has attached one to your head, so now you must obey her and keep her alive. She wants you to take her to a colony to the West (hence the title).

Gameplay is mostly traversing terrain - the ship is breaking apart, so I need to jump from here to here before it falls off, or there's a robot with a laser over there, so I need to go take it out before it kills us. It's broken up by occasional sections where you have to fight many robots at once (like most action/RPGs), which is something I never like so I'll talk more about that below. :)

What I Liked:

Concept. I love the idea of working together with another character. I also really enjoy the mystery in this game - you don't really know what's going on. Why is NY city rubble? Who is this woman and what can she do? Who are you and why were you locked up in that ship? This is the sort of thing that actually might keep me playing.

ANIMATION. The animation on the main character is amazing. I have fun just making him run around. There are some handling issues though (see below), but I really enjoy the animation in this game more than any game I've seen in awhile.

Characters. I like the character designs, and I'm pretty happy with their personalities, although they don't have very big personalities... basically the main character's personality is "angry" and the girl's is "scared" but I think there's been some really strong acting in there to support that.

Traversal. I think that my favorite things in a game is when you're in a big, beautiful, alien environment and you're exploring it in ways that you normally can't - and this game has that. I can't just jump into a tree, or leap through the air impossibly far. ;) I like that the main character is a monkey man, who can get anywhere, and it's really fun to feel like I'm exploring (even though the game is very linear, I'm constantly rounding the bend to something that seems new).

Environment. The environment is beautiful! Sure, it's just more rubble and wreckage like most games nowadays, but it's still done very well and I enjoy it. Because it is so cool looking it makes me that much more excited about exploring (obviously, that's the thing about exploring - finding cool looking things).

What I Didn't Like:

Handling. We always talk about games like this as animators, and now I'm finally playing one - the animation is fabulous in this game, but your super agile monkey man character does not handle very well! The most obvious example of this (and really thinking about it, maybe it's the only one and it's just made a HUGE impression since you see it so often) is that when you stop running, you get the "run_to_idle" transition animation, which you feel every time because it handles differently than you would expect.

Tedium. I'm so close to putting combat into the "What I Liked" section, except for the fact that it just felt like guys took a couple too many hits to take out. Particularly since you seem so powerful! I'm like, smashing the crap out of this machine, which is apparently beaten up and sort of ancient looking, and it's still taking me like, 10-12 hits to take him down. I really don't think that anything is added by making the enemies last longer than 1-2 hits - particularly since this game seems to primarily be about traversing. Example, there are 2 robots way off on the other side of this valley shooting at me. I need to have the girl cause a distraction, and then climb all of the way over there without getting shot. Getting there is where the challenge and fun live. I think some satisfaction is to be had from beating on them, but it just takes a little too long for them to explode.

Combat Cameras. This is almost really cool, but doesn't quite make it - they tried to make the combat really cinematic, so you get some dynamic camera cuts and cool angles when you fight - but then every time I stop fighting I'm completely disoriented.

Also on the note of Tedium. Sections where you have to fight like, 20 robots, 2-3 at a time. They're not particularly challenging to kill, so I'm really just then button mashing for awhile...

Animation Stretching. I think it's the result of level design - but you get some of those weird spots where the character has to jump a huge distance which the animation wasn't intended for, so the character has to travel a farther distance over the same length of time (since it's the same animation), so he goes super fast for just a second. It's a picky polish thing, but I noticed it. ;)

Where to Go? For the most part traversal paths are made apparent by a shimmering effect which runs over parts and pieces of things that can be used as handholds, but I think that this is sort of a weak solution to this problem. Also there are places where it's still not apparent where to go at all - like when you have to jump a distance that seems impossible.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I will definitely pick this game up again. Despite any of the shortcomings I mentioned, it's definitely intriguing enough that I want to see more. That being said, I would be very surprised if I actually finished this game - I sort of suspect that I'll get tired of it after one or two more hours. (I know... so pessimistic. I hope I'm wrong!!)