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Gaming

E3 2017 Wish List

It’s gamer Christmas again! With the Microsoft press conference about to kick off (5pm EST; larger schedule here), I wanted to jot down some personal hopes and dreams for possible announcements during the week:

  • A PS4 port of PixelJunk Monsters. It’s really just unfair at this point.
  • Nintendo, give us a truly stellar 2.5D Metroid game. Zero Mission is about as close as we’ve gotten to a Super Metroid-caliber
    release, but even it was a little heavy-handed with the direction and a
    touch too linear for my taste. I’d also take a Metroid Prime Triolgy
    Switch port, or a new entry in the series.
  • If we can’t have Metroid (not holding my breath), at least let’s get an MS announcement for Shadow Complex 2.
  • I enjoyed Resident Evil 7 more than 5 and 6, but I’d really like to see some news on a traditional RE game. The RE2 remake is in the pipeline somewhere, but really anything in the vein of the GameCube REmake would be fantastic.
  • We’re getting some premium new hardware from Microsoft, so I expect we’ll see a matching price drop for the PS4 models (and maybe the PSVR?). I would love to see Scorpio land around $400, but it’s really unlikely for the kind of powerful machine they’re producing. If they settle on $500, hopefully the pack-ins will make up for the higher sticker price.
  • With HD remakes popping up all over the gaming landscape, I wouldn’t mind seeing another game redone in the Ratchet and Clank series. The PS4 variant of the original is one of the best games on the system, and I’d love to see similar efforts for the other good games in the series.
  • I would die to play Mario Galaxy or Mario Sunshine on the Switch. Port those suckers. Or really, you know, anything more about the Switch. Maybe a true Pokémon game? F-Zero? Even old SNES-era Final Fantasy ports would be okay (since there are already iOS variants).
  • It feels like it’s flown under the radar a bit, but a Below release date for Xbox One would be excellent. Cannot wait to check that out!
  • A new Alan Wake game, or at least a UHD re-release of the original with DLC. I would take any excuse to replay that game, and what better way than on Scorpio in 4K?
  • A true Banjo-Kazooie sequel? Yooka-Laylee had the hype train behind it but ultimately left a pretty sour taste in my mouth, mostly because it wasn’t as good as the original inspiration (even today). A long shot, but hey, Microsoft probably still owns the IP!
  • What ever happened to that ReSpawn Star Wars title?
  • Obduction port for consoles? I’m grasping here.
  • I hope we don’t hear anything about Death Stranding. In an age where Fallout 4 was announced months before release, enough with the news on games that haven’t even been designed yet.

It’s pretty overcast and rainy here in Florida–perfect weather for an afternoon of E3 press conference watching! It’s hard to explain how excited this time makes me; there’s so much possibility in the air, and the bombast and spectacle of it all is really energizing.

I’ll try to blog some post-E3 thoughts as well.

I hope everyone see’s something checked off on their own wish list, and have a great E3!

Categories
Gaming Reviews

Stories: The Path of Destinies

PS4, Steam | 2016 | Highly Recommended

Reynardo, Reynardo, what has thou donst (besides stolen my heart). Stories: The Path of Destinies is a brief but enjoyable hack-and-slash RPG that wraps simple-but-compelling combat, progression, and story mechanics into a bundle largely elevated by fantastic art direction and unique storytelling.

This action RPG sets itself apart by providing all the basics along with its uncommon approach to storytelling. The standard systems are here: snappy, fun combat; upgrades throughout; different weapons, enhancements, and techniques; and light exploration with crafting loot as a reward. Layered on top of this well-executed mindless fun is a choose-your-own-adventure narrative with all characters voiced by a single actor, lending a fairy tale aesthetic to its wonderful cutscenes and omnipresent narration. Characters are enjoyable, quipping at each other with an endearing rapport. The obvious love and polish coating the more basic elements of the game were more than enough to draw me into the world and story the creators wanted to tell, and the oddly-satisfying combat and systems kept me hooked well beyond the culmination of the main arc.

Each choice made in the story funnels the player to different worlds and outcomes, with each ending uncovering a “truth”. This truth is intended to help steer future choices closer to the critical path, with each play-through uncovering more and more until the “true” path is completed. It’s a fantastic and interesting mechanic; I just wish there were more “truths” to uncover and that I hadn’t found the critical path as quickly as I did.

The art throughout is amazing. Each gameplay sequence is book-ended by these emotive, lithograph-stye illustrations depicting Reynardo, the swashbuckling, dreamy, confident hero fox, adventuring into his fantasy world. The character icons accompanying subtitled narration smile, frown, and smirk while the narrator layers bedtime-story inflections over each one. Each world is bathed in color and style, and while most are short (each five-world playthrough is 20-30 minutes long), each defines itself with a unique palette and aesthetic. The blow-by-blow swordplay is accented with explosive particle effects and time slowdown, delighting visually as it does functionally. The visuals and voice work elevate Stories from good to fantastic.

There are some (but few) sour notes. Load times are long and frequent. The game suffers (at least on PS4) from some fairly major pop-in problems, both for textures and in some cases entire slabs of geometry, forcing me to navigate blindly to the next piece of the level. These minor issues never seemed to detract from the enjoyment, however.

The game design also seems to fizzle out past several playthroughs, despite the game’s hook being the intentional repetition of its story. While having tens of endings, individual choices don’t alter much of the story thread or have a large impact on the gameplay. It’s hard to knock the game too much for this, though; it seems to know it only works for as long as it needs to, and that’s mostly fine. Just know if you plan to grind out every achievement and ending, the mechanics will likely lose their appeal.

In all, Stories is just about a perfect package of RPG junk food, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s charming and original while keeping things short and to-the-point. Highly recommended for anyone looking to have some highly-polished dumb fun.

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Gaming Reviews

Zero Escape 3: Zero Time Dilemma

PS Vita, 3DS, Steam | 2016

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is, I’m heartbroken to say, just an okay game.

The Zero Escape series of games boasts a pretty unique and compelling mixture of Japanese visual novel and puzzle solving. Just like the previous two Zero Escape games (999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward),

Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD) opens with a motley crew trapped in some abandoned facility, forced to play a game where the stakes are literally life and death. It sounds corny, but in practice it’s pretty effective and compelling. In this iteration, the game’s narrative hinges on chance and probability; you can “escape” on a coin flip not five minutes in.

Every choice made in the game’s narrative branches the story, and the player is encouraged to go back and play out other choices to unlock different looks at outcomes and character stories. Most choices are followed by a puzzle room of some kind, and players must solve a series of simple-to-baffling escape-room-style puzzles in order to move the narrative forward. It can be an awesome flow when done right; a cliffhanger to motivate the solving of puzzles for one more bit of story. Unfortunately, the puzzle-to-story ratio throughout the game is uneven at its best and downright maddening at its worst. Add in a new “amnesia” mechanic, which allows the game to present the story Tarantino-style in seemingly random order, and each piece feels like a short, nonsensical look at a piece of a narrative that isn’t particularly interesting or engaging paired with 30-45 minutes of arbitrary puzzle solving.

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Gaming Reviews

Review: INSIDE

Xbox One | 2016 | ★★★★★

Just as a painting can be described simply as a picture to hang, INSIDE (by PlayDead, makers of LIMBO) is simply a 2D puzzle platformer where a silent protagonist runs left to right, dodging danger. It’s about three hours long.

It’s also a complete work of art by every measure. It’s breathtaking, disquieting, and enthralling. It’s a procession of macabre set-pieces that beg to be taken in, interpreted, and put aside just in time for the next. It’s vicious: one wrong move and you’re murdered, often brutally, by a vague, dystopian world with no place for you.

And for such a work of art, it’s accessible to any gamer. Run left to right, swim, grab, and jump occasionally. But mostly stare, listen, breathe, gasp, and sit back, jaw open.

I’m not sure what I can really add to the discussion on this game, but it receives the highest recommendation from me, despite leaving me with feelings of unease and dissatisfaction. It’s not perfect, but it’s playable in one sitting and entirely accomplishes everything it sets out to do. It’s the best kind of video game.

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Gaming Reviews

Review: Pokémon GO

iOS | 2016

If ever there was a game that reminded me how little time I have left for games, it’s Pokémon GO, the new phenomenon from Niantic forcing everyone to rediscover Pokémon (or at least Bing it).

I snagged Rob on the first night and bummed around UCF for a short bit, tapping and swiping awkwardly and feeling accomplished with each new Pidgey and Ratatta. Just as often, the game lagged, dropped, crashed, didn’t respond, and above all didn’t explain anything. “But every online game has these issues at launch,” thought everyone reading. And yeah, that’s pretty much all of them these days, I guess.

Somewhat surprisingly, we ran across a bunch of people doing the same. Wow. Feels like middle school all over again. Except back then, I had a game that turned on and worked every time, had innovative mechanics, and excelled in spite of (and possibly due to) the constraints of the hardware.

A week and eleven levels later, I’m wading through crowds gathered at a PokéStop to go buy socks at Target. I’ve watched from my office as employees stroll by, phones out, stopping momentarily to swipe up a few times. While I’m nose-down in Visual Studio, my team is out hunting across the street. As I’m getting ahead on work Sunday, I read about my friends strolling through downtown, Disney, and UCF, wading through seas of other bodies exploiting the virtual map. Tonight my waiter asked about it, the booth one over full of seniors was playing it, and CNN was dissecting it. It’s viral in every sense.

Battling is horrible. Here’s hoping they revert this nonsense to a rock-paper-scissors game that’s derivative of the series’ type match-ups.

The best thing going for the game is its adherence to the Pokémon theme. The models are spot-on and cute as hell, and the animations for each creature draw that smile across the face with ease. If only it could maintain that throughout.

GO is genuinely good at making “driving so you can walk around aimlessly” seem like a thing I want to do, but it’s also really good at making me feel completely unable to keep up. It is genuinely great? Nah. Maybe eventually. It’ll probably be a lot better in a month or so. Until then, you can find me at my desk, twirling the PokéStop outside my office 90 times a day, wondering if I’ll ever catch up.

Recommendation: play it with a small group of friends and/or a significant other exclusively. Don’t drive and GO.

Categories
Gaming Reviews

Review: Downwell

PS Vita, PS4, PC | 2016 | ★★★★★

Despite still struggling to platinum the game, Downwell is one of the best I’ve played in recent memory and is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for a dedicated gaming handheld to exist.

From Wikipedia:

Downwell is a 2015 vertically scrolling shooter roguelike platform video game developed by Japan-based indie developer Moppin, and published by Devolver Digital. The game was released on iOS, Microsoft Windows, Android, and on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. Downwell centers around a “curious man”, who is at the local park one night when he decides to explore the depths of the well nearby. Knowing that monsters are waiting for him inside, he straps on his gunboots and starts his trip downwards, killing his enemies to proceed and collect treasure.

I’d heard mention of it a couple times on various gaming podcasts, but it sounded fairly basic in concept. I grabbed it on Vita for $5 (cross-buy with PS4) and dove in. After an hour of quick 2-5 minute runs, I could see the appeal for “fans of the genre”, but it felt like too much for me, too difficult, too twitchy, something.

But four or so hours of “just one more” later, I realized I was learning around the edges, progressing farther, getting better, all without consciously making a decision to change my tactics, approach, or strategy. The game pushes improvement and learning on you in a way I hadn’t felt since Spelunky (which is not a bad comparison for how this game bites into you).

Once you fall into this loop of learning and advancement, the game is just downright perfect. Between the rewarding combo system, the tough choices when presented with weapon swaps, the progressive character upgrades between each level, and the “play styles” that unlock over time, the game feels perfectly designed to ensure a consistent level of stress, engagement, and fun, despite everything being procedurally generated.

This game admittedly isn’t for everyone. It’s a fast, frantic, high-stress rogue-like that had my heart beating so fast at times I had to pause and put it down.

Upon first reaching the final boss, I had the temptation to look up strategies, thinking this was my one chance; my first trip to the bottom took probably 200 attempts. I stopped short, not wanting to rob myself of the same feeling I got from beating Olmec the first time in Spelunky. With a deep breath, I charged on, dying almost immediately. And I returned to beat the boss two attempts later.

The price of Downwell makes this a no-brainer. $5 on PS4/Vita, $3 ($1.50 as of writing) on Steam. Just make sure you play it with a controller.

It’s nice to be reminded occasionally how excellent games can be.

Categories
Gaming Reviews

Review: Severed

PS Vita | 2016 | ★★★★☆

Just platinumed Severed, a fantastic little Vita game from DrinkBox Studios, the same team behind Guacamelee!.

It’s a dungeon-crawling Fruit Ninja with battle tactics and time management. It’s just about as close as you can get to a perfect fit for the Vita: 8-10 hours, unique art style, inventive mechanics, and just enough progression to make me want to keep playing.

It’s not a masterpiece; it can be a little boring, especially when you’re backtracking for missed secrets and map locations. But it’s hard to fault it for making the completionist in me waste a little time. It’s fantastic really, but closes up just when the fights are starting to get frantic and exciting.

Give me some DLC for this thing. And thanks for having the guts to do something different. Highly recommended.