Tearaway (Vita): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nqq12x7yw11svmpf2o1_1280When Little Big Planet was announced, there was a lot of excitement over how innovative and clever and creative it was. And it was all those things, and it looked fantastic and everything. Then we all realised that it was just a platformer with horrible physics and a rubbish, game breaking and unnecessary third dimension. The fact that virtually all of the user made levels don’t bother with any level depth speaks volumes. Despite the lovely narration by Stephen Fry, it was ultimately disappointing as a game. A game creation tool, flawed and awkward as it was, great, but an actual game? Pretty but broken.

As a result, my hopes were not high for Tearaway, the Little Big Planet team’s followup. It’s all arty and stuff, this time going for a papercraft theme rather than fabric, but the creation side of things is heavily toned down. To the point where there is no level creation at all, and you’re restricted to little more than putting stickers on things. What I’m saying, is they removed the good bit of Little Big Planet to focus on the bad bit.

Perhaps this focus will pay off?

Well… no. Not really.

2015-06-29-195713In Tearaway, the levels are all properly 3D now, like a standard platformer. You can move your cute little personified envelope, Atoi (or Iota if you choose a boy) around freely, jump (although not initially), roll to attack (again, not initially) and so on like you’d expect in any other similar game. These standard controls are augmented by horrific additional controls throughout the levels, in increasingly complicated and finger-twisting ways. Stand on a “Playstation shapes” pad on the floor, and you can tap the back panel of the Vita to jump. Yes, there’s already a jump button, but this is a different jump, made slightly more difficult because it uses the back panel.

Except that some of the “Playstation shapes” pads are for pushing your fingers “through” from behind, not for jumping. This feels fun when you use it early on, ejecting the “Scraps” baddies off the screen, but when you have to move Atoi at the same time, holding the Vita starts to become a little harder and accuracy on the back panel suffers. Other times you poke your fingers through to move blocks or activate mechanisms, again not an issue unless you need Atoi to navigate at the same time – and worse if you have to jump or roll as well.

2015-06-29-191856As you wander through the great looking paper worlds, your own face gurns down at you from the sun in the sky. Much like an episode of Tellytubbies. At various points in the story you (as in, You) pop up, always slightly looking off to the side as the Vita’s camera isn’t central. Sometimes you’re asked to take pictures of things in real life to use as textures on things in the game, which seems like a great idea but – like many mechanisms – is underutilised. Other times, you have to take pictures of objects with your in-game camera, to colour them in (which unlocks a real-world papercraft version for you to print and make, which is quite sweet), add difficult to draw features to, or record a bit of your journey. It’s never really clear why you need to take so many pictures, although some are occasionally used as mainly background graphics later in the game.

2015-06-29-193127To expand on the drawing aspect, which is the one creation tool brought over from Little Big Planet: It’s rubbish. For the most part, it is triggered whenever you need to put eyes or hats or badges on characters you have met (or yourself), and there are a lot of pre-made options to choose from for the cost of a few confetti (the overly abundant collectable in Tearaway). If you want to make your own, though, be prepared to be annoyed and disappointed. The primary issue is having to use your finger as a stylus. Accuracy is out of the window immediately, hampering your ability to complete a “loop”, for example joining all sides of a square up correctly. If the loop is incomplete, you can’t “cut” the shape out. Additionally, the way you have to choose, cut and stack other pieces of paper is fiddly beyond belief, and two fingered rotating and resizing once you actually start placing your creations on a model is frustrating beyond belief. Eventually I avoided creating anything where possible, and did the bare minimum when forced.

2015-06-29-190222As Atoi and the story progress, you’ll meet lots of fun characters and have some humourous one-sided conversations. There are loads of great graphical effects with bits of paper flapping in the breeze and the landscape folding and unfolding like a pop-up book. There’s a lovely section where you make a pig friend and then take him for a ride, with a reprise late in the game which adds some twists. There’s a scarecrow with a pumpkin head who you give a recording of you roaring to, and he uses it to scare, uh, crows away. A section where you’re chased into the screen by huge monsters who increase in number, only to find out later on they’re quite harmless and actually help you. A little frogmonkey creature who becomes your companion for a while, eating his way through paper balls that block your path. A plethora of memorable moments, sadly tainted by so many other moments that are memorable for the wrong reasons.

2015-07-01-215811Like the time you have to walk along a wall (on some glue or something) but as you walk the camera moves so you have to adjust your heading. Which would be fine, only you also have to stroke the screen with your finger in a vague way to make extra bits of your pathway unfurl, struggling with unresponsiveness and often accidentally triggering previously unfurled rolls to furl up again. Or the entire section where you have to use the Vita like one of those labyrinth ball maze things to roll a messenger around while at the same time navigating Atoi on a different path while also prodding both the front and rear of the Vita to activate buttons and switches all while not being able to see properly where either you or the messenger is.

Or one of the numerous platforming sections where falling off the small ledges makes you plummet to your death. In other games, the 3D spacial depth perception is assisted by your character having a shadow to show where you’re going to land. No such thing here, not that you’d have time to spot it as you’re busy poking the damn screen again to reveal the jump pads on later platforms and fingering the rear panel to bounce you off your current one. While using the left stick at the same time, while the camera moves of its own accord.

Here_s_a_photo_I_took_in__tearawaygame_httpst.coiX6DcbsSKL__tearawayphoto__t__species_femaleThen, after the first two main “stories” of the game, you’re given a new, personal story. “It’s experimental,” says Daddy Pig (who cannot be heard as anyone but Daddy Pig, which actually detracts from the immersion in the game). “Expect it to be weird”. By which, they mean, rubbish. They ditch loads of excellent bits they’ve already hardly used (the accordion and combat, in particular), add loads of tilty-Vita bits, more hard-to-judge platforming, and a whole pile of rolling along paths. There are hardly any characters to interact with either. It feels like Team A had finished with the game and passed it on to the work experience kid to add another half an hour’s content but without letting them have access to 50% of what they’d already created. Perhaps if they had finished it properly it wouldn’t have been so damn short either.

2015-07-01-184605It is a shame, but it seems Media Molecule had a lot of great ideas. Where they went wrong was putting them all in the same game. With, for example, Super Mario Galaxy, there is a massive well of creative gameplay ideas that somehow it keeps drawing from for the whole game, reusing what’s great but never letting anything outstay its welcome, and always cohesively bonding the lot together. Nothing is out of place. In Tearaway, what works great is never exploited enough and some editing should have removed what didn’t work. Nintendo weave ideas together, Media Molecule have missed how this is done and just thrown everything into a big pot hoping it’ll mix well, and it hasn’t. The game changes too much as you play, becoming so many different types of game as you progress, and not in a pleasant form of evolution. Shoehorning motion and touch controls into games is something Nintendo is often accused of, but with this game Media Molecule take that to an unnecessary extreme, removing the fun along the way.

Ian Malcolm has a relevant quote that fits well here.

HuniePop (Mac): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nqkikei12z1svmpf2o1_1280We shall not talk about the content of the game. We shall only talk about how it plays. And how does it play? Very well, actually. Thanks for asking.

Basically, you chat to girls to find out about them, which give you “Hunie” points. You then go on dates with the girls which consists of a match-3 puzzle game. The dates give you “Munie”. You spend this money on gifts for the girls which generates more Hunie, and you spend the Hunie on stat improvements for yourself which makes your match-3 abilities more powerful in various ways. And round and round it goes. It works surprisingly well, and even without the very naughty girls in it the mechanics are much better than in many other similar games.

After you’ve successfully dated each girl four times, you get to take her home. Take all the girls home, and you win the game (and at life, presumably). So I did that. Apparently there are two more secret girls to find somewhere, but I’ve no idea where.

Things I’ve been playing recently (Part 2 – PS+ Stuff)

Lots of PS+ stuff has been building up over the last few weeks. I’ve played most of them (except the PS4 games, obviously), so here are some thoughts.

tumblr_noo3xkiczm1svmpf2o1_1280Race the Sun (Vita)

It’s a bit dull, really. It’s sort of like Deathchase but with upgrades and nothing to shoot. I’ve played it for an hour or so but it’s not grabbing me.

Tower of Guns (PS3)

A nonsensical FPS where you progress through randomly generated levels containing lots, and lots of guns. Looks a bit rough but is surprisingly good fun. The way the abilities and weapons unlock are a bit of a pain though.

tumblr_noo3yawnnb1svmpf2o1_1280Murasaki Baby (Vita)

Impossible to control. You can’t realistically use the front and back touch panels of the Vita at the same time (in fact, I’d argue you can’t use the back at all even by itself), so I’m not going to get anywhere with this. It sort of looks nice, but it’s unplayable.

tumblr_noo4116vri1svmpf2o1_1280MonsterBag (Vita)

It feels a bit like a point and click adventure game, but it’s too random and vague how you progress. Not really enjoying this either, so that’s in the bin now.

tumblr_npl64hy0wp1svmpf2o1_1280Futuridium EP Deluxe (Vita)

Like a cross between Race the Sun and Uridium (which it “borrows” for its name), but not as much fun as either. Like Race the Sun you fly into the screen, like Uridium you fly over (and under, and through) various, er, spaceships? and shoot things. The things you shoot are often hidden. You have to find them all in time or you die. It isn’t good at all.

tumblr_npl7gqesmg1svmpf2o1_1280Super Exploding Zoo (Vita)

A puzzle game with a great premise, but flawed execution. Rescue exploding animals from aliens, using them to blow up walls and sacrifice themselves to defeat the aliens. Thing is, different animals have different skills and there’s no way to tell, say, the penguins to kill themselves for the cause without also telling the monkeys – who you may need later to climb a wall. Far too many times did I die due to not having enough control. Ah well.

Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable (Vita): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nqpenibnaj1svmpf2o1_1280Way back when, I played the Xbox 360 version of this and really rather enjoyed it. It was really shoddy, the console couldn’t cope with the number of baddies, the graphics were terrible, the animation and audio was awful, and by rights it should never have made it out of Japan at all. But there was something about it, despite all that, which made it enjoyable and addictive.

Last week, the portable version, on the Vita (a console even less capable of running it than the 360) was on sale on the PSN store for just £3.75, and with the price I paid for my PSN credit, that came down even lower to just £3. Rude not to, right?

tumblr_nqpermqgxt1svmpf2o1_1280What I hadn’t realised is that this version is actually a beefed up version of the 360 original. It’s the same game, but with a few new levels, some new weapons, a new (well, borrowed from a different EDF game) character to play as, and I’m pretty sure some new enemy variants too. Excellent.

And in 12 short game hours, I’d completed it. Hooked from start to finish.

tumblr_nqpes0rnv61svmpf2o1_1280Like before, I don’t think I ever found a perfect pair of weapons for any of the levels. It made it a bit of pain when you’d realised that a short range homing “shrapnel” missile and an assault rifle worked best, only to have a different enemy spawn in later in the level and I’d then find I’d nothing to take it down. I also found, constantly, that weapons for “mechanical” enemies do not make good weapons for “insect” enemies, so balancing what to take into a fight with both types was a challenge. Still, I managed it.

And with the mothership destroyed and the whole of humanity in ruins, that was that. EDF! EDF!

Dishonoured (PS3): COMPLETED!

That was brilliant. Like, properly good and everything.

After last time, I had to rescue Piero and Sokolov, who had become best of chums and created a massive arc pylon between them. I had to get them some bits for it, but once active I wiped out (well, put to sleep) everyone in the area. That was pretty good.

Then it was off to some island to rescue Emily. On the way, I had a nice friendly chat with Samuel, as usual, but just before I arrived he turned on me, told me I was a terrible person, I’d killed too many people and he never wanted to see me again. Which was a pretty quick turnaround on his thoughts about me, since he’d only just been back-slapping me as the second coming or something. Bizarre.

More bizarre was how, as we pulled up at the jetty, there was a fish flapping in mid-air, which Samuel’s boat pushed along out to sea as he left. Um.

So the final level was where my previous actions played out. I’ve since read that if I’d been more careless, and less murderous, throughout the game, I’d reach the island in “low chaos” circumstances – daylight, low security, that sort of thing. Instead, due to my early game stabbings (I stopped doing that so much nearer the end) it was night time and, supposedly although I saw very few, dripping with guards.

Without spoiling the end, I mostly Blinked or Ratmurdered everyone en-route to the lighthouse where Emily was being held, and easily took down her captor quietly from behind. The end!

You know, I’m really looking forward to Dishonoured 2 now. And you know what? I might just have a PS4 by then to play it on. No wait. I’ve said too much.

Things I’ve been playing recently (Part 1 – Wii U demos)

Time for a roundup. Seeing as I’ve played a lot but not posted about anything. In several parts too, as there’s so much. Firstly, some demos:

Over E3, Nintendo put nine new Wii U game demos on the eShop under the horrifically named “Nindies@Home” banner. So I played them.

Runbow

Not as good as I was hoping for. It plays a bit like Guacamelee only rubbish. Sort of. Platformer with an annoying colour changing mechanic where platforms disappear when the colour changes to match. Didn’t play it multiplayer, which is the main draw, so it’s probably better there.

Mutant Mudds Super Challenge

More Mutant Mudds. Which is great, as the original was great, but on the Wii U you lose the 3D and it makes the jumping in and out of the screen seem pointless, somehow. And it’s hard. And I never finished the original 100% so not sure how I feel about more hardness.

Forma.8

Pleasant floating around game. It’s a bit like Knytt Underground and Abyss in style, has a fun drop a bomb and “kick” it attack, and some simple puzzles. Seems OK, might be interested in the full game.

Extreme Exorcism

Platformer where you kill ghosts. It’s a bit like Super Crate Box, only when you kill the ghost, the next level has a new ghost who duplicates all your moves from the previous level. And then the next level has all the previous yous and ghosts. Or that’s what it seemed. Fun, if a bit confusing.

Rive

Lovely twin stick shooter with really, really meaty bangs and explosions. Sections split between gravityless side scrolling and gravity based platforming, with the odd swimming section (where you can’t shoot). Very nice.

Soul Axiom

It’s Not Portal(TM). It’s also really shonky, with stuttering and framerate issues all over the place. It also looks a bit like it’s been made with some Unity level designer or something. And terrible, terrible voice acting. Oh god.

Freedom Planet

What looks like Sonic and sounds like Sonic but is terrible (like Sonic is now, I suppose)? Freedom Planet! Awful animation, screen juddering everywhere and all hopes and dreams of a possibly good Sonic game (even though it isn’t Sonic) up in smoke. Boo.

Lovely Planet

If Noby Noby Boy was a first person shooter, it would look like this. Is the style intentional, or the result of not being able to draw? Who knows. Hiding behind the cute sparseness, is a brutal one-hit-death FPS, which is sort of OK, but I’m not sure I like it enough to play it again.

Typoman

The best of the bunch. Limbo-esque platforming with puzzles solved by creating words with letters that litter the area. So RAIN is a rain cloud filling a pit, but add a D and it DRAINs out. Clever, lovely, and definitely on my want list.

Dishonoured (PS3)

Several years ago, I played a demo of this at the Eurogamer Expo. It reminded me a lot of Bioshock, which I loved, and gameplay wise sat halfway between that and Assassin’s Creed, which I also love. I knew I was going to have to buy it.

For various reasons, I never got round to it. Then, a little while back, it got added to PS+ and I thought I’d finally give it a go.

And it’s been fantastic. I love the slightly steampunk, slightly Fallout apocalypse setting. The powers are great, especially Blink and the rat summon. The story is interesting and the characters are well above average. I’m really enjoying it.

At first, I struggled with trying to stay stealthy. I’m not a fan of hide and seek games, despite my love for Assassin’s Creed, so staying in the shadows and taking out enemies in a non-violent manner was difficult. I’d heard if you kill too many people, you end up with the bad ending, so I didn’t want to aim for that. Once I’d been told that really, the bad ending isn’t really bad and the good ending isn’t really good (they’re both just different viewpoints or something – I’m not that close to know for sure yet), I stopped worrying when I got spotted and just took out the bad (or good?) guys whichever way. Sure, I tried stealth and hiding, but if it went wrong? Who cares.

With that little revelation, I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Game.

Apart from the TallBoys. I don’t seem to be able to hurt them at all, even when shooting their oil tanks, supposedly a weak spot. Ah well, I can just skip past most of them with Blink instead, which is actually more fun.

Another thing I’ve been enjoying is the variety in missions. In particular, the one where you have to get up Dunwall Tower and take down the Lord Regent (I chose to upend him via propaganda, rather than slitting his throat) – lots of great areas in that level. Also, the mission at the house party. That was fantastic – eavesdropping and exploring to find out which of the three Lady Boyles was the one you needed to off, then tailing her to the bathroom and knifing her behind closed doors. And then running away. Awesome.

I’m closing in on the end now, having just returned to the Hounds Pit after some… unpleasantness.

Mega Man X2 (Wii U): COMPLETED!

ShootmansIt’s taken a while to finish this off, but not because it was especially difficult or long – more because I’ve been playing it sporadically and in short one or two level bursts.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot like Mega Man X. And better than Mega Man 7. I was a bit frustrated that there’s a certain point in the game that you reach (the final robot master before the Sigma levels) where, if you haven’t managed to retrieve all the parts for Zero, you can never return and get them. Of course, I didn’t even know they existed until it was too late. As it turns out, collecting them makes a fight with Zero later on a lot easier, but I beat him first time anyway.

That_s_what_they_said_about_syntholStill, I could return to earlier levels and get all of X’s upgrades, which was good.

The final Sigma levels were pretty easy, and the bosses – which like usual seemed impossible at first – ended up far easier to beat than most other Mega Man games, especially the final Sigma boss itself.

Was it better than X, though? I don’t think so. Better than 7? Yes, certainly. In fact, lets wheel out the order and extend it.

X>X2>6>4>7>5>3>2>1. There. Fact.

Colour Zen Kids (Wii U): COMPLETED!

CobblepotLook. Just because it says “Kids” in the title, that doesn’t mean it’s just for kids. Was “Toilet Kids” just for kids? No. Was “Virtua Fighter Kids” just for kids? No. MC Kids? Survival Kids? Kid ‘n’ Play Make My Video? Of course not. So shut your mouth.

The aim of the game is to get rid of all the shapes that are on the screen. You do this by making two shapes of the same colour touch, which floods the background with that colour absorbing all the other shapes of that colour. Finish off with the colour the screen border is, and you win! Even kids can do it. Not that it’s for kids. Despite my daughter having already completed it. Shush.

Splatoon (Wii U): COMPLETED!

inkling_in_SSB_plsFollowing the “test fire” event, which was less a demo and more a server stress test, my opinion of Splatoon went from “Oh, that looks nice” to “OMGNEED”. I’m not a big fan of online shooters, but this was different. Shooting the opposition was a secondary task, as the aim is to paint as much territory as possible. Although most players seemed to forget this and treated the game as a deathmatch. Anyway, the way it played out was much more appealing to me than I originally expected, and so when the game was released yesterday, I bought it.

Ink_thatSadly, this coincided with my internet connection breaking, only to run at dial-up speeds. Online play, the main point of the game, was off. Bah.

Instead, I set about playing the single player mode. I wasn’t expecting much as the effort and focus in the game is clearly online play, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a fun, clever and varied, with some great boss fights. Especially the final one – he’s fantastic.

Looks_like_he_s_an_XboxIt was a bit easy (bar that last boss), and sadly quite short – although it was made a little longer as I replayed all the levels to find the hidden scrolls on each – but it was well worth playing. Now I just need my broadband sorting out so I can play the main bit of the game!

Exed Exes (PSP): COMPLETED!

OK, so technically it’s on the Vita, and really it’s an arcade game (it’s on Capcom Classics Reloaded), but since it’s a download for the PSP I’m classing it as a PSP game. I think that’s in line with my usual logic for the likes of the Wii U Virtual Console. Not that it really matters. As an aside, the game looks pretty poor on the Vita screen, regardless of screen size option. I don’t think PSP games look very good on the Vita generally, but a game that’s resized to fit one screen then that is resized to fit on another? Horrible. The text on the menus and options are barely readable.

The reason I bought Capcom Classics Reloaded is because it’s cheap, and the reason I chose Exed Exes to play is because I’ve not played it before (although I think I have the Famicom version), it looks like Xevious, and Retro Gamer did a feature on shoot-em ups this months and I fancied a go on one.

Oh my god should I have not bothered.

Exed Exes is TERRIBLE. I know it’s about 30 years old and I know I’m not a massive fan of the genre, but still. It’s tedious. It’s repetitive. There’s no variation in the enemies or the landscape. The music is an awful dirge. The enemies are uninspired and take far too many hits to destroy. The bosses are all virtually identical, just progressively larger, and are basically simple symmetrical shapes with gun turrets on top. It’s really hard. It’s sooooo slooooow. The power-ups don’t affect your weapon in any real way (you shoot three bullets instead of two, but the power doesn’t increase so it makes no difference) and the smart bombs only damage enemy bullets, not enemies.

And it’s so, so boring. After four stages I wanted to claw my own skin off, but I stuck with it for all 16 and after the final fanfare and a load of bonus points, stage 17 started – which was just stage 1 again. No. I’ve had enough.

Then I started Vulgus and it’s the same damn game only with crap metal baddies instead of crap insect baddies. OFF!

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U): COMPLETED!

PullbloxFirst up, here’s a massive spoiler I don’t mind giving away: Captain Toad is actually the prequel to Super Mario 3D World. I mean, everyone knows it’s a spinoff based on the Captain Toad levels from 3D World, but the end sequence of Captain Toad actually shows how it’s a prequel, what with Toad returning from his adventure then setting off to the Sprixie Kingdom after green stars. Who knew?

Donkey_KongCaptain Toad is pretty much just more levels like those Toad levels in 3D World. They’re more complex, there’s a hell of a lot more of them, they’re more varied and more clever, but you can see where they come from quite clearly. Toad sets out to collect a star on each level, solving puzzles to get there and optionally collecting three (sometimes hidden) gems in each. Well, I say optionally – you need some, but not all of them, to unlock some of the levels. You don’t appear to get anything for collecting all of them in the entire game though, which was a bit odd.

ROARToad is useless in a fight, and can’t jump, so most of the enemies need to be avoided or beaten in other ways. You can throw things at them, or drop onto them from a platform, or use other baddies to take them out for you, which totally changes how you play compared to Mario games. It looks like a Mario game, sounds like a Mario game, but really doesn’t play much like one. Even some of the levels look like those Mario plays through in 3D World (in fact, some even ARE from 3D World), but with a  different set of skills, the route to the end is not the same.

Woo_woo__All_aboard_Like 3D World (and Mario 64, Mario Galaxy, and so on), there are fresh game ideas galore, and many are used just once. If only other game designers had half the skill in coming up with ideas. Even those Mario clichés seen before are used differently here.

It’s pretty easy, although each level has an additional target (such as don’t get hit, find a hidden mushroom, collect a number of coins) most of which I’ve missed so far. Part of the reason for missing them is that you don’t know what they are until after you’ve completed the level, so unless you obtain them accidentally, you have to replay the level. Not that replaying levels is a chore – you don’t need to re-collect gems, so you can avoid some of the puzzles, and each level is pretty short.

Yay_In addition to all three “episodes”, I’ve also completed everything currently unlocked in the bonus section – levels from 3D World, the Toad Brigade levels (repeated levels where you have to find the rest of your troop and take them all to the star), and the Mummy Me chase levels – although the bonus level “book” is still far from full, so I expect there are more bonus levels if I complete all the level targets.

Captain Toad is quite short, quite easy, and very, very lovely.

The Unfinished Swan (PS3): COMPLETED!

That was both different to, and shorter than, I was expecting. I’ll admit, I’d not read much about The Unfinished Swan, so knew very little outside of “you throw paint on walls”. Turns out that’s just the first ten minutes of the game and the entirely white walls/floor/everything premise is mostly ditched afterwards.

Instead, you get water to spray around, vines to grow, dark areas to brighten, blocks to build, and so on. It’s surprisingly varied with each particular skill lasting only ten or fifteen minutes before you move onto the next one. Yeah, I was done in 90 minutes. I was expecting at least another hour.

Not that there was anything wrong with that length of game, of course. It’s full of more cleverness than most 20+ hour games, and the story, which is fairytale in nature, is good. The reveal at the end was quite unexpected too.

Hohokum (PS3): COMPLETED!

tumblr_no2q32unk11svmpf2o1_1280I suppose, technically, this is a half Vita, half PS3 completion as I played it a bit on each platform (it’s cross save, you see), but since I reached the end of the game on the PS3, it gets the attention. Sorry Vita.

tumblr_no2q0ytz1v1svmpf2o1_1280How to describe Hohokum, then. You are a snake who has lost all his snake friends (all with incredible names) across various bizarre and surreal areas, each filled with things to trigger and puzzles to solve, and all with a strange fascination with eyes. Sometimes you have to bump past things in order, or carry creatures to something, or find all the… things… or make everything dance, sing, fly away, disappear, combine or burst. Do all these things, and you might (you often can’t tell) find a snake. Or open a new door. Or something funny, strange or baffling happens which doesn’t actually further the game.

There’s rarely any way of knowing what to do until you’ve experimented, driven your flying snake past, round or into everything. I’m certain several “levels” (they’re just locations really, rather than levels) were only completed or past entirely by accident and a few of them just triggered the “win” without me realising I’d actually done anything.

tumblr_no2q2qmyjs1svmpf2o1_1280The vagueness doesn’t matter, though. Every event is like some clever or cute little story, a comic strip of events. There’s no communication or exposition, past the odd cave drawing or carefully arranged pile of rocks, but some of the creatures you encounter are full of character, and their actions and noises tell a brief tale. For example, in an area full of white circles, you find that flying over them makes then burst into colour. On a sort of island in the middle of this is a sort of man stood next to what appear to be four slots. You can pick the man up, and the slots change colour, prompting you to ferry the man around so he can scoop up the smaller circles of the colours shown. Take him home with his collected ingredients, and he feeds each disc into a slot, which causes his machine to create a colourful and ridiculous hat for another man. All nonsense.

tumblr_no2q2adukd1svmpf2o1_1280It’s an odd game of whimsy and art, with situations that can only come from the head of a person with kangaroos in the top paddock. Mostly it works, but sometimes you are totally lost, not knowing if you’re actually making any difference or working towards a goal. Even the odd “Saving” icon that appears doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something – often you’ve merely accidentally triggered one of the 150-odd hidden eyes in the game that don’t appear to serve a purpose. On one screen there is a massive circle made up of hundreds of smaller circles. If you fly over them, they vanish. Was I supposed to get rid of all of them? Surely not. That would take ages! Twenty minutes, in fact. But yes – you had to get rid of them all.

Despite that, and the fact you often can’t tell if there’s even anything in a particular area you need to do, let alone must do because there’s a hidden snake, it’s a fun, relaxing and incredibly pretty game. It’s just very weird and abstract, but in a much better way than, say, Proteus, or the Mega CD game Panic! (which for some reason this reminds me of) is. You can’t die, you can’t run out of time, and even when you make a mistake you’re not penalised. It’s just a bit baffling that someone came up with it at all, really.

 

Mega Man 7 (Wii U): COMPLETED!

BraaaaaaaaaainsUnlike the NES Mega Mans (Mega Men?), Mega Man 7 has two sets of four robot masters rather than one set of eight. After beating the first four, a second set is added. I’m not sure why they felt doing this was necessary, as all it does is reduce the choices at the start of the game. It would seem that the first four levels have hidden letters on them (I picked up R and H), but whether the second set have, I don’t know – I never actually looked for any.

Wait_-_there_s_a_shopThe second subscreen (which contains how many E tanks you have, amongst other things) remained pretty blank for the entirety of the game, so I’d obviously missed something. Something huge, as it turned out. Once I’d beaten the first Wily level (yes, no changes there), I tried to get back to the level select screen as I wanted to redo an earlier level and get a replacement E tank. I pressed Select twice by mistake, and ended up in a shop! I assumed there must have been one somewhere – after all, I’d collected about 600 bolts – but assumed I’d missed it or not unlocked it. I’d no idea you could enter it at will. And E tanks were just 60 bolts? Bargain!

Cut_scene_from_Jingle_All_The_WayWith that knowledge, I was less frugal with the tanks for the last few levels, and had a nice surprise when I found the W tanks (I’d bought a few of them too) refilled ALL your weapons, not just one. That made the end of the game easier! Which is just as well, because the final boss was nails.

Once again, Mega Man saved the world etc. and Dr Wily begged forgiveness and mercy, but this time Mega Man actually threatened to end him… but of course, robots can’t harm humans, so he didn’t. And Wily escaped once more. Sigh.

And then I started Mega Man X2.

Yakuza 4 (PS3): COMPLETED!

Wow. Somehow, the plot just got better and better. So many twists, turns, betrayals, reverse-betrayals, reveals, surprises and revelations. Most of them in the last two hours. Two hours of mainly cutscenes, I noticed.

In the lead up to the finale, Kiryu joins up with Tanimura, Akiyama and Saejima as they all realise they have a common enemy and goal. Of course, they’re not entirely sure who the enemy is, so they set a trap to lure him out. Or them. Spoilers!

The final chapter was all exposition, bar the obligatory boss fight(s), but I didn’t find them too hard. What was helpful, was that I’d stumbled across Naomi’s Place (again – Tanimura goes there in his part of the game), and some weird buy in a clown suit, called Bob, gave me loads of really useful items – weapons, armour, healing drinks, and so on. I went into the endgame well prepared, and soon beat those I needed to, leaving a lengthy set of videos, credits, and more videos.

In all, it took about 22 hours. I’ve obviously not done much in the way of sidequests or activities though, as my stats show my completion rate at just 12.78%. That’s barely started!

Hopefully Yakuza 5 will be out here sooner rather than later now, although that said it took me over three years to get round to Yakuza 4 after Yakuza 3, despite saying I wanted to play 4 right after 3. Maybe when it’s cheap then…

Shantae (3DS): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nnqhyi80ui1svmpf2o1_400It’s been a long time. The “time played” in the 3DS stats shows I’ve spent just under twelve hours on this, but that’s spread over several months, since I started back in February.

tumblr_nnqhxtkml91svmpf2o1_400It isn’t because it’s a bad game, far from it, it’s just that every so often I’d realise I’d travelled all the way to the wrong end of the map (it loops round, but only when you’ve almost finished the game!), and couldn’t face travelling all the way back again, so gave it a break. Then, each time I picked it up again I’d forgotten where I was or what I was doing, so going back always seemed a chore.

tumblr_nnqhulodzd1svmpf2o1_400Soon I’d get back into it though, and each dungeon was well worth the slightly annoying overworld traversal, being less backtracky and more puzzley. Strangely, the bosses all got increasingly easier, with the final two being complete walkovers and the first one was almost impossible. That’s just as well, I suppose, as I never sought out the extra heart containers hidden around the map. I stumbled across one, but exploring every nook and cranny of the world is so dangerous that I avoided doing so, taking the quickest, easiest route at all times.

tumblr_nnqhy1qy5o1svmpf2o1_400Similarly, the warp squid you collect in dungeons would have reduced the backtracking, but they were too hard to find. I did manage to get enough to unlock the warps in two towns, so at least I reduce it a bit.

Having said all that, it is still a great game. It’s fun, it’s quite clever and it looks amazing. I’m hoping that the few niggles I have with it are ironed out in the later games in the series, because I want to make a start on them soon!

Things I’ve been playing recently

Roundup!

Mega Man 7 (Wii U)

Precious_memoriesIt’s been a few months since I started Mega Man 7. I think, after ploughing through Mega Mans 1-6 I may have had a bit of Mega Man burnout, and I was a bit disappointed with 7 anyway as it didn’t feel right. Anyway, I’m back on it now and have taken down the first lot of four Robot Masters. I’m enjoying it, and it does feel more like the NES games than it did a few months ago. Perhaps I just needed to give it some time?

StreetPass Zombies (3DS)

Nintendo released two more StreetPass games! In this one, your passes equate to weapons that you use to see off the (cute, Nintendofied, egg-headed) zombie hordes. It’s a lot of fun, and actually quite difficult.

StreetPass Fishing (3DS)

And this is the other game. Passes translate as different bait types which you use to catch different fish. There’s a sort of RPG element as you can level up and improve your rod (and get other rods), and a lot of “gotta catch ’em all” with the fish. Really enjoyable.

Pokémon Rumble World (3DS)

tumblr_nmxy9tydoi1svmpf2o1_400Another Free-to-Play Pokeymuns game from Nintendo, this time based on (read: almost exactly the same as) the Pokémon Rumble series, which despite being repetitive, I’ve had fun with in the past. This one has a real money mechanic where you can only attempt so many levels before your hot air balloon mode of transport deflates, and you have to wait or use jewels to re-inflate it. And jewels cost money. I’m open minded though – Pokémon Shuffle had jewels too and gave away so many for free it was unnecessary to buy any.

Yakuza 4 (PS3)

I’ve progressed a little further, moving onto Kiryu’s part of the story. Another incredibly unlikely coincidence occurs (another character washes up on Kiryu’s doorstep) and then another (Kiryu goes to the police station and happens to bump into “Lily”), and then some fighting. I’ll just say this: that head prison officer bloke from Saejima’s prison is pretty much immortal, isn’t he? No mere man can be smashed to pieces that many times and not only survive, but actually come back stronger!

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! (Wii U)

Food_is_where_the_hearts_are_A few more levels finished on this in co-op. It’s a bit shallow, but is essentially Gauntlet, so I’ll let it go. The only real annoyance that I have, is that you can only quit the dungeon and save the game every five levels, meaning you really don’t want to die in that time or you have to do it all again.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

WarioooooooooooooThe new tracks that were available this week are fantastic. Ribbon Road, in particular, goes way above a simple reimagining of the original GBA track by being probably the best looking part of any game ever made ever. Ever. I’ve not unlocked the new 200cc mode yet, so had to put in a bit of work to do that by improving my scores on some of single player mode. Never a chore, mind.

Bernband (Mac)

Screen_Shot_2015-04-12_at_14.51.37Technically, I’ve completed this. I’m not recording it as completed though, as there’s no real goal – you just explore a purposefully low-res alien city, see the sights and hear the sounds, and that’s it. There’s not even all that much to see, and I took the lot in in well under an hour. There’s no interaction, nothing to collect, no items to collect or anything like that. Still, it was funny and absolutely well worth a wander around. Download it for free here.

Titan Souls (Vita): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nnffwcxd0a1svmpf2o1_1280What a difficult game. Rewarding, complete with air punches, each time a Titan is finally felled, but oh so very difficult.

Almost every Titan I came across seemed impossible to defeat. At first it was because I couldn’t see how you were supposed to take them down, and then it was simply because I couldn’t. Perseverance paid off, and eventually each and every one was beaten. Eventually being the operative word there – so, so many attempts.

C_est_impossible___titansouls__t_httpt.coT5Z8N9HESoMost impossible of all the impossible Titans was the stone head with two maces. I think about a third of all my deaths were attributed to his spiky balls. There was a genuine sense of achievement and relief once I (literally) shot him in the back.

In comparison, the final two bosses were a walkover. As in, I “only” died around 20 times on each. In fact, the actual final boss himself took a mere handful of lives, although I think that may have been luck. Having dealt with him, it was Game Over and the credits rolled… but then I remembered: two Titans I’d attempted previously, I’d never gone back to finish off. How, then, did I get the end of game sequence?

tumblr_nnffu5nmcp1svmpf2o1_1280As it turned out, some of the Titans are optional. I’d beaten the game taking out just 15 of them, but there are 18 to off. Mark Foster (who wrote the game) sent me a message on Twitter to say there was a “true” final boss after you’ve beaten every Titan, so my next mission is to find those I’d missed and mop the floor with them too. I did start this, and found (but lost many times to) the Knight With A Big Arrow Titan. I shall return.

Titan Souls (Vita)

2015-04-18-135131What seems like a long time ago, I heard about Titan Souls on the Pig Ignorant Indie Gamers podcast. Back then, it was a web based game written in about ten minutes for the Ludum Dare game jam. I played it, liked it a lot, and completed it.

Then it spent over a year being developed into a proper full game, and I eagerly awaited its release. And now it’s here!

2015-04-18-150704It is, basically, the same as before. Only bigger. Instead of four titans (all of which appear to be in this) there are, er, lots. How many, I’m not sure. I’ve beaten twelve, and am able to access but not beat another two or three, and I’m guessing once I’ve beaten them and opened a massive door there’ll be at least another as a final boss. The game world is still quite small, but bigger than before with a few minor puzzles in it. There’s a jungle, some ruins, a snowy area, and a volcano to provide scenery variety too.

2015-04-18-145952As before, the game is all about killing big bosses and very little else. You have just one weapon – a single arrow that, once fired, you have to pick back up. Alternatively, it can be magically summoned and levitated back to you, but this is slow and so mid-fight needs to be done carefully. Each boss makes use of this limitation, so you have to not only find the (generally) one-hit-kill weakspot, but figure out how to hit it.

For example, one titan is a giant mask who shoots energy balls at you. He flies round the room, always facing you, but his weakspot is his back. You can never directly shoot his back, but you can “pull” your arrow into it having shot it past him.

Show_me_your_teeth__t__titansouls_httpt.co3wDCTsqRplMost titans are as much a puzzle as a fight, so the first ten or so deaths (you’ll die a lot, sorry) are just figuring out where to hit them, and the rest figuring our how and then actually pulling it off. It’s hard. So very, very hard. And incredibly rewarding.

As I said, I’ve downed twelve of these bosses, and it’s taken me about three hours and I’ve died over 180 times. Has that put me off? Not at all.

Yakuza 4 (PS3)

I’d not touched Yakuza 4 for a month or so, because various other games happened, but I’ve been playing it quite a bit in the last week or so and have been making a lot of progress.

Unlike Yakuza 3, you have more than one protagonist. So far, I’ve played as Akiyama – the ethical loan-shark who owns a hostess club – and kicked a lot of people in the face. Akiyama doesn’t go in for punches that much, it seems. Most of his story centres around protecting “Lily”, who he loans a massive sum of money to, and for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, training her up as a hostess. All while trying to track down a guy who murdered another guy outside his office, and collecting locker keys.

After him, I played as Saejima – a prisoner on death row who escapes and tries to find out why his partner didn’t turn up for the murder spree 25 years ago that he got sent down for. As he escapes (plunging into the sea, injured), he’s told to find Kiryu, and in the most ridiculous turn of events ever, somehow literally washes up on Kiryu’s actual doorstep. He heads to Kamurocho to find ex-brother Majima, and along the way he helps two poorly cats, takes part in a  fight to the death (in which neither combatant dies), spends far too much time at a massage parlour, and hangs around with homeless people in the sewers a lot. And goes bowling. And collects locker keys.

Currently, I’m playing a slightly bent cop Tanimura who is also trying to protect “Lily” (who turns out to be Saejima’s sister) because she knows something about why his dad, a detective, was murdered in relation to Saejima’s crimes, while both protecting illegal immigrants and taking “look the other way” money from their employers. While doing his police duties and additional vigilante work. And fighting random people, carrying “Lily”‘s money about in a steel briefcase and smacking a lot of Yakuza in the face with it. And collecting locker keys.

And that’s where I’m up to. I’ve just saved Tanimura’s Asian chums in Homeland from Katsuragi’s goons, and some police chief has turned up and wants a chat.

Basically, it’s quite complicated.

Azure Striker Gunvolt (3DS): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nmcm5xjrxh1svmpf2o1_400Aside from a couple of bosses, and the “water chasing you up the tower” level (which I realised I was doing wrong – you can wall jump and fall slowly when you’re sparking), I managed to get to the penultimate level of the game without too much trouble. Then I hit a wall.

A SuckySuck Bit(TM) wall. That’s right folks: a boss rush.

tumblr_nmcm79mhfa1svmpf2o1_400I suppose I was expecting it. After all, Gunvolt isa follow-up of sorts to Mega Man, and Boss Rushes are a Mega Man cliché. And it was hard, too. After scraping past the first boss, there was a second one. I was praying it was just the two, or at least that there’d be a restart point after the first, but no – straight into the second boss without so much as a heal or recovery of your skill points. So I died.

tumblr_nmcm6jps3e1svmpf2o1_400And I died a lot. Over and over. Mostly on the second boss (the green one with the spikes that turn into drills or lasers). I decided to go back and complete a few earlier levels again, to level up (I went from about 24 to 35 in the end) but also to get material to generate better gear for Gunvolt – such as faster EP recovery or better shielding. After that, I returned to the boss rush and seemed to be faring little better.

Then, on one attempt, I beat the second boss with a tiny sliver of health left, no skill points, and no chance at all of defeating a third boss. Please don’t be a third boss. Oh. There’s a third boss.

tumblr_nmcm734zmi1svmpf2o1_400Thankfully, somehow, I wiped him out in double-quick time. One skill point regenerated soon after the fight began and I used it to replenish some health. Luckily the boss was the one who creates columns of fire on either side of the screen, and he was really easy. Phew! But… a fourth boss?

No. Well, yes, but not before a restart point. And other boss after that, again with a restart point that went unused as they were easy. Onto the final level!

tumblr_nmcm7drrpd1svmpf2o1_400After a short corridor and a room with loads of simply to defeat minions, it was the final boss. Who was really difficult. It took many, many attempts to see him off (then of course, I realised all I needed to do was use my EV shield to negate his shield, making him much easier) and he changed form into a huge robot thing. Sigh – another Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Cliché. More so in that he appeared to be impossible to beat, and one attack (which blows you off the platform seemingly with no way to avoid it prevent it) was incredibly frustrating.

tumblr_nmp3lshaaj1svmpf2o1_400Many attempts, requiring the previous form to be beaten again first, were had, and then I realised the “trick” – target the left and right sides of the robot, then use your EV shield to negate his shield in the middle, then target that, then spark all three targets at once. Knowing that, he went down quickly. The end!

Except the end wasn’t a happy end at all. Spoilers, obviously, so I won’t say what happens, but I think you need to do something before the final boss. Probably involving collecting gems, of which I think there are six, and I stumbled across one. More to do then!

Azure Striker Gunvolt is a fantastic game, and I’m pleased they’ve announced a sequel already as I do really want to play more of this sort of thing!

Super Mario 64 (Wii U): COMPLETED!

WHOMP_there_it_isLook, there’s not lots to write about this that I’ve not written before. Super Mario 64 is one of the best games ever made, on any system, ever. That’s just a fact, and playing it through again did nothing to dissuade me. Of course, I’m still not sure if Super Mario 64 is better than New Super Mario Bros U, or if it’s the other way round, but I can be sure the two of them are at positions 2 and 3 in The Best Games Ever.

MY_WIFE_NOW_DAAAVEThe Wii U Virtual Console version is barely different to the Wii Virtual Console and the N64 original, but the graphics seem a little sharper (probably only because it’s now HDMI rather than any changes Nintendo have made) and of course the buttons have moved on the Wii U Gamepad. I moved A and B to B and Y though, so it’s more like an N64 pad, and didn’t have any issues – it feels just the same as it did before.

Trapped__like_ratsOne addition is the availability of save states, which was useful as I didn’t need to pause the game for hours if I needed to do something else.  Oh, and you can take screenshots now, obviously.

Is it just me, or is the game now significantly easier, though? In particular, on previous playthroughs, I’m sure I struggled on at least one of the Bowser levels and getting 100 coins on Rainbow Ride in the past, but no such issues this time. In fact, I’ve had very few deaths at all, all things considered. Maybe I’m just a lot better than I thought. Yes. That’s bound to be it.

Troma_BowserEven after nigh on 20 years, Mario 64 is still gorgeous to look at, listen to (the tunes are probably more memorable that pretty much any Mario game since – or any game since, perhaps) and play.  The controls are slick, Mario leaps and flips and dives in a fluid way no other game, not even later Marios, has ever managed. It’s an utter joy from start to finish.

Box Boy! (3DS): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nm73jrhl0p1svmpf2o1_400A black and white puzzle platform game for under a fiver on the eShop by the people that made Pokemans? That can’t be good, surely?

Until I saw a video of it, and there was something about the simple style that piqued my interest. The way you solved the puzzles, by making boxes that link together, seemed unique. On paper, it sounds like Sokoban (Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Cliché #2), but it’s really totally different.

tumblr_nmcm4x4cqn1svmpf2o1_400Your little box, Box Boy, can produce a number of boxes that are joined together. How many he makes varies by level, but he can create stairs, bridges, hooks and so on from them. He uses these boxes to get across gaps, up ledges, over hazards, push switches, hold back danger, and so on, in many, many different ways.

tumblr_nmcm55d4hh1svmpf2o1_400What’s really clever about the game is that every world (with about 7 levels in each, with each level containing a few separate puzzles) a new element is introduced, and then binned until the final worlds. For example, “sticky” pads on walls that you or your boxes hang from, or platforms that vanish when you stand on them, or conveyor belts. They’re all added to the game, used a few times, then thrown away and replaced with something else. It keeps the game fresh and varied from start to finish.

tumblr_nme2w3ajby1svmpf2o1_400Of course, the final few worlds (and some of the bonus worlds you unlock after completing the game) mix them up and put several of these mechanics together, some in new ways.

I’ve completed all of the normal levels, and all of the first batch of bonus levels (three worlds worth), and unlocked another two bonus worlds. There’s also a challenge mode and a time attack mode, which I’ve briefly looked at but not really dipped into yet, so there’s still a lot to be done.

Mighty Gunvolt (3DS): COMPLETED!

tumblr_nm78trnfvm1svmpf2o1_400Since I’ve recently become a fan of Mega Man games, I have been looking forward to the release of the 3DS game Azure Striker Gunvolt. It’s supposedly a spiritual successor to Mega Man. What’s even more interesting is that an 8-bit style version of it, Mighty Gunvolt, came free. I was looking forward to that even more.

And here it is, and 40 minutes later, there it was. Completed.

tumblr_nm78tx47cb1svmpf2o1_400OK, so it’s short and pretty easy. But so much fun! There’s more left to do, such as replay it with the other two characters, each with their own moves. There’s also some DLC in the form of more stages. It’s not expensive, but locking away some of the game that was given away for free, behind a paywall stinks a bit.

tumblr_nme2v51lrt1svmpf2o1_400Still, what’s there for free was enjoyable and the bosses were great and it certainly feels a bit like Mega Man. Without the crouch slide or Mega Buster charge attack. Clearly I’m missing some sort of move like the slide, as there are a load of things I’ve been unable to reach. Maybe you can with the other characters?

Anyway, onto Azure Striker Gunvolt now!

Tracking my gaming. For great victoly!