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.)