Stardew Valley (Switch)

Down on the Farm

Sometimes, I regret buying Stardew Valley. There are many reasons why I might do this, from the fact I already own it (unplayed) on Steam to it being a long time since I got into a Harvest Moon game (which Stardew Valley ostensibly is). The main one? Time.

In the 14 days I have owned Stardew Valley, I have somehow racked up 45 hours of play. That’s over three hours a day. That sort of commitment isn’t sustainable, not least with Super Mario Odyssey due to materialise in a week’s time. Already, Fire Emblem Warriors, effectively best game ever candidate Hyrule Warriors in alternative trousers and nailed near the top of my Must Own list has evaporated. I’ve not even bothered to order it. Stardew Valley has pwned me.

How has it done this? Somehow, the tedium of the game is like heroin. Each in-game day is around 15 minutes long and mainly consists of these “fun” farm-based tasks: Harvest crops, plant seeds, water everything, collect eggs, milk cows, make mayonnaise and cheese, check my crab pots, recycle rubbish, check on mushroom farm, sell produce, scythe grass to make hay, chop down trees, wear high heels, suspenders and a bra. Then the next day, do it all again.

If I finish my main chores early enough, like if it rains so I don’t need to water anything, or I’ve nothing to harvest, I might do some tedious fishing. Or venture into the mines and do some tedious mining. Perhaps I might go and tediously gather some wild flowers, or perform some tedious fetch quests. Or I might tediously top up my stocks of iron or gold ore, or tediously make some more chests to tediously store my crap in. There’s a chance I’ll then tediously need to manage my chest inventories and ensure I’ve put all the same type of item in specific chests because sure – the game is tedious already why not OCD it up a notch and make it even more tedious? Repeat all this ad tedium.

If I’m unlucky, there’ll be a major village event which encroaches on my embedded timetable of tedium. I’ll have to give up a whole afternoon to talk to all the other residents about sodding easter eggs or jellyfish or god knows what when all I really want to do is plough through my daily checklist so I can spare the time to attempt another five level mine descent. And then apparently you can woo other folk and become their friends? Who the hell has time for that?

And don’t get me started on the horror of having to upgrade your tools. I can’t do without my watering can for two whole days! My crops will die, Clint. They’ll die. And it’ll be your fault because you’re a terrible blacksmith and anyway, Clint, Emily will never be interested in you with your sweat and awful facial hair and you can’t even man up and talk to her. Clint you loser.

The whole game is horrendous. Stardew Valley is no relaxing farm simulator, as you perhaps might suspect from a Harvest Moon clone. No, this is repetitive slave labour with time-based stress. Don’t have time to water everything? They die. Don’t time your crops to grow before the end of the season? They die. Forget it’s gone midnight and you’re not home yet? You collapse and Linus the Creepy Hobo robs you blind (and probably does worse while you’re unconscious). Stress! And the constant worry that anything you produce might be needed at some point in another season or by a villager so you can’t sell anything you don’t have multiples of. And what if I cut down too much grass and it doesn’t grow back and I haven’t enough hay over the winter and Buttercup dies? More stress.

Somehow, I’ve endured 45 hours of this. I’ve completed my first Stardew Valley year, and am about to hit my second summer. My farm consists of a badly constructed L-shaped “planting area”, a silo for hay, a barn with two cows and a coop with three chickens and a duck. I’ve a mushroom cave, trees producing various mucuses (mucii?), beehives, lightning rods, and large areas of wild grass for hay harvesting. My house has beer, pickle, cheese and mayonnaise making facilities and is rammed full of colour-coded chests. I’ve many planned goals for buildings and produce, and I hope to reach the bottom of the mine soon. I have the minecarts up and running, and have renovated three rooms in the Community Centre. I seem to be making progress, but I still feel like I’m treading water and actually not getting anywhere. Not only that, but I’m getting nowhere on other games too because Stardew Valley is spilling over.

And you know what? I’m loving it.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PS4): COMPLETED!

Something may something forks something something.

Some general points:

  1. Lego Star The Force Awakens Wars
  2. Shortest Lego Game Ever
  3. BB8

Taking point 2, my daughter and I completed it – just the story mind – in less than ten hours. Less than ten. For a Lego game. That’s the shortest I’ve ever played by some margin, and we got stuck in a hangar on one level for over an hour because neither of us had seen a thing to jump and hang from.

I’m no snob over the length of games, but even The Lego Movie The Video Game Movie Lego Game was 15 or 18 or something. And, yes, there are extra levels unlocked (although we’ve done the rathtar hunting one already) and levels and worlds to go back to to get the rest of the gold bricks and things… but ten hours?

Ten hours.

The third point, is because my daughter wants to be BB8 now. For real. Because of course she does.

Neither of us are fans of Star Wars. I’ve only seen the first 5 films 1 and part of Phantom Menace 2 but Lego wins out, as always. It wasn’t as much fun as Lego City Undercover, though, but little is. The two new mechanics added to the game actually make it worse. The first is how bricks can now build two or more objects. Odds are, you’ll build the wrong one first. The second is Gears of War style cover shooter sections. Nah, mate.

Still, we’ll be 100%ing it. And then we’ll be on the look out for the next Lego game!

Notes:

  1. You heard.
  2. The sixth one.

Hitman (PS4): COMPLETED!

Hiding in plain sight.

This was a surprising amount of fun. I loved all the different ways you can murder your targets, some by brute force, some by taking the time to learn how to make use of their schedules or weaknesses. Poisoning their food, laying explosives on their route, or setting traps for them to essentially kill themselves.

The episodes were all pretty varied, with some humourous people to meet and quirks to take advantage of. In particular, I liked messing with the guy in Colorado’s OCD, forcing him to calm down by partaking of a cigarette I’d laced with hallucinogenic drugs.

I’m almost certain I’ll return to the game to try some alternative methods of bumping the targets off, even if just to mess around with the game a bit.

Oh, and it has some incredible toilets. Very important, that.

If you want to watch my complete playthrough, with all two thousand game reloads, then you can here:

SteamWorld Dig 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Everything is oresome.

I’m a big fan of the first SteamWorld Dig. I’ve bought and completed it twice, in fact. The “digging genre”, such as it is, has always appealed to me. Ever since playing a demo of Diggers on the Acorn at high school, I’ve been drawn to them – Mr Driller, Miner Dig Deep, and SteamWorld Dig being the headliners.

SteamWorld Dig 2 was a thought-free instant purchase then, but if I’d not bought it the overwhelmingly positive reviews would have made it difficult to resist.

A cursory glance of the game shows little has changed since the first title. You’re a steambot (although not Rusty any more – he’s gone missing), and you have to dig down in a mine. The more you dig, the more you need upgrades to assist. However, after you’ve played it for a bit you realised it’s not just about depth – there’s more to explore here.

Instead of a single shaft, there are a number of separate – albeit linked – areas, each themed. A more powerful axe is less important this time around, with rocket boots and a grappling hook becoming the essential tools for getting around. Larger, more open spaces replace much of cramped mining, but there’s always something, and some reason, to dig.

Smaller rooms, filled with puzzles or navigational challenges, pock the mine and reward you with items that further boost your skills. Cogs can augment your abilities over and above the standard bought upgrades, reducing water use or making your pressure grenades more powerful, for example.

The gameplay is perfect. After every “run”, usually when you’ve found another return tube (which acts as a warp point), you sell your ore and gems, bump your powers up with the money and cogs, then return “just to get to the next tube”. And the next tube. And the next tube. It’s addictive, and soon enough eight hours have passed and I’ve completed the game.

But still there’s more. My completion stats say I’m just 53% done, and Image & Form tell me there’s a whole extra section if I make it to 100. So of course, I’m going to make it to 100%.

Sonic Mania (Switch)

Yes, this again. I’ve now completed it with Sonic and that Idiot Fox together, with all the Chaos Emeralds.

That is all.

Sonic Mania (Switch)

Miles better.

That’s the game completed with Tails and all the Chaos Emeralds now. During the process of doing this I also managed to get all the Gold medals on the Blue Spheres bonus levels.

Which means the only thing I have left is a run through with Sonic and Tails together! Not really looking forward to that. Tails on his own is tolerable, but when he’s following Sonic round he has a tendency to kill you.

Lego City Undercover (Switch)

Chase me.

After 48 hours (that’s about 17 hours less than on the Wii U), my daughter and I have 100%ed it.

It was excellent. Certainly, it crashed quite a bit. And there were the usual bugs and things which meant getting stuck or having to redo levels, but it was a lot of fun, especially now it can be played with two players.

I did wonder if we’d come across the most frustrating of all bugs when we got to 99.9% complete and had nothing left to do. The stats show we had all the red bricks, gold bricks, characters, levels, and vehicles. Thankfully, I realised that helicopters (and the like) aren’t included as vehicles on the main list, and we’d collected but forgotten to buy one. Phew!

Persona 4 Golden (Vita): COMPLETED!

Someone finish it off!

I did wonder, three years ago when I bought Persona 4 Golden, whether I’d ever end up completing it. It was on the Vita, which I didn’t play. Supposedly it was a hundred hours long. It felt, some 15 hours in, like I was still in the tutorial. There were so many other games.

It fell by the wayside, despite me enjoying it. Then, around four months ago, I went back. I could have started from the beginning again, and perhaps, with hindsight, maybe I should have done, but after one hundred hours I’d completed it. Persona 4 Golden was great.

Persona 4 Golden

When I’d paused on it way back when, I was struggling to comprehend the Persona system. I wasn’t really enjoying the pressure to save people from the fog before the days ran out. Building social links seemed unimportant and there were better things I should be spending my time doing. How wrong I was.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Wii U game Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE gave me a better understanding. It’s the same sort of game (in fact, it’s a spin off of the same core series Persona is), but with everything simplified. Not easier, just less complicated. This worked in my favour – easing me into the Persona way of doing things. Going back to Persona 4 Golden with this knowledge let me concentrate on the differences, and I took to the Social Links properly, soon reaping the benefits.

The core game is pretty standard JRPG faire. Wander dungeons, fight baddies in turn based and element-sensitive combat. Level up. Fight harder baddies. And so on. If this was all of the game, it’d be pretty uninteresting, but the the interactions between dungeons add several layers to it. Not just story, but interest, secrets and humour. The characters are wonderful and full of depth, especially those who open up as you advance your relationship with them.

Speaking of relationships, it seems that most of the girls in the game can become romantically linked to you. Quite early on your mate Yosuke quizzes you on whether you prefer quiet and clever Yokiko or tomboyish but shy Chie. I picked Chie, and although you don’t actively pursue anyone, some time later my dialogue choices netted me her as a girlfriend. Which was great, until I decided to hug Rise because she was crying (the alternative was literally to stand there and watch) and suddenly I was a two-timing tart. Oops.

Over the course of a year (in the game), your team expands as you rescue more people from the fog. Teddie, Kanji and Naoto are added to your dungeoning party, although I never really bothered to enlist them. As time progresses you close in on who is responsible for the kidnappings and deaths although naturally, the obvious culprit isn’t to blame. In fact, nor are several other people, including three who actually confess. There are a number of endings, presumably bad if you miss the real villain.

I avoided some because I’d already realised that the obvious ending wasn’t the true ending, and then stumbled past another false accusation: There are a number of dialogue options you need to choose and luckily I picked the right ones to progress. I’d also been tipped off that I’d need to max out Marie’s Social Link, so having managed all that the final dungeon was revealed and upon completion, the true ending.

Or so I thought. Until I was corrected on Twitter and it seems I’d missed a further revelation. A reload, a careful conversation with everyone and an exploration of everywhere, and finally, the final final dungeon. And the Real True Ending Honest This Time No Really.

Persona 4 Golden feels like a teen drama mixed with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Love Hina, and Eerie Indiana. It’s emotional, surprising, with tonnes of firepower. Funzo, in game form. At times, it’s confusing. Or it’s addictive, stressful, funny and disappointing. Not being able to complete your planned dates, book reads, shopping or cinema trips because you’re panicking you have to kill some demons in time can annoy you, because who wants time management and a diary in a game? Eventually I realised that there’s time for most things, and getting The Important Stuff Done isn’t too hard. It’s an incredible game.

Now I don’t know what to do. Four solid months of Persona is a lot to give up. There’s New Game+ of course, but that’s not really more Persona. There’s Persona 5, but that’s not on a portable console so wouldn’t get half the attention this did. I’m tempted to go back to Tokyo Mirage, but then I look at the backlog of titles 100 hours of Persona caused, so who knows.

Data Wing (iOS): COMPLETED!

Winging it.

I’ve mentioned before, but I don’t often play games on my phone. Sometimes, though, one comes to my attention. Like Data Wing did.

Data Wing feels like a cross between Super Sprint, Thrust and escapeVector. You control a dart shaped object – supposedly a data carrier in a computer system – by pressing the left or right of the screen to steer. Simple controls, so workable on a touch screen!


Levels vary between reaching the exit in a fast enough time, racing other darts, finding keys, navigating through heavy gravity, and so on. Skimming the walls with your dart increases your speed, and some areas boost you, slow you down, or  strip you of control temporarily.

There’s a story about a process in the computer, Mother, wanting to use you to become a real human, and a possibly reformed malware entity who suspects Mother might not be all she appears. You can also collect files that contain message fragments from the computer’s owner, revealing another story there.

Data Wing is a simple, short but excellently executed and fun little flying/racing title. And current, it is totally free. Free! Not even any adverts or anything. Amazing.

Guitar Hero Live (PS4): COMPLETED!

Gitaroo Man

As in, the main mode completed. As in, all the tracks unlocked, played and finished in each of the festival sets.

Things that I liked about this version of Guitar Hero: The new fret button layout is actually better than the old one.

Things that I didn’t like about this version of Guitar Hero: Most of the other stuff.

The tracklist is terrible. Yes, GHTV sort of makes up for it with it’s constant stream of mostly poor quality (and wrong aspect ratio) music videos, but even the music catalogue here isn’t a patch on previous games in the series. There are some big names – but not their best, biggest, most guitar-y tracks. It’s very disappointing.

Also, in GHTV mode, the controls seem to be very unresponsive. I didn’t have a single issue in Live mode (the “story” mode), but strums often failed to register on GHTV. The guitar completely disconnected once!

It only cost me £15 so I’m not too bothered by all the negatives, and there’s enough good in it to make it worth that much anyway.

Sonic Mania (Switch)

With all the Chaos Emeralds collected, I ran through the rest of the levels and faced the true final boss. Or rather, bosses. One of them appeared to be Big the Cat in power armour.

And I beat them.

Sonic Mania (Switch)

Now Sonic can be Super Sonic!

That review I said I was going to do? It’s here.

In other news – I’ve got all the Chaos Emeralds! The special stages are pretty hard, the 4th and 6th ones especially so. Somehow, the 7th was very easy and I completed it on my first go without even gaining much speed.

Now to play through the rest of the game for the proper ending!

Sonic Mania (Switch): COMPLETED!

Sanic

Just a short post about this, because I’ll be writing a full review in due course, but oh my. It’s good. After so many letdowns and missteps, Sega have finally come up with a truly fantastic Sonic game. Only they didn’t, did they? A team of fans did instead. Tch, eh?

I love the new takes on old zones, new versions of old bosses, new remixes of old music. Levels which are mashups of old levels. New levels which feel like they are from old Sonic games but aren’t. It’s all exactly what I wanted from a new Sonic game.

Sonci Mania

There are a few later zones which don’t feel quite as good as earlier ones, and a handful of bugs, but it’s nigh on perfect. Well done to all concerned.

And yes, I bought it, played it, and completed it in a single day. I’d avoided all media to do with the game since they started revealing zones and features, so almost every level was a complete surprise. Even those I knew about had surprises. Lovely.

Now to get all the Chaos Emeralds. Which is Hard.

Mighty Gunvolt Burst (Switch)

Cupid, draw back your bow.

Which I’ve completed again. This week, they added Gal*Gun’s Ekoro as a new, free, DLC character. Of course, that meant I had to play it again.

Ekoro’s main differences are that her shots appear to be substantially weaker than either Beck or Gunvolt, and that her “aerial” ability is being able to hover and glide. She also jumps a lot higher than the other characters, making some of the game much easier – and a couple of sections somewhat harder. Spikes on the ceiling, you see.

The story sections are simply removed in this run through. It’s a shame, but there aren’t many anyway and wouldn’t make sense any more either.

As always, it’s a great game. I wonder who else is going to appear as DLC? A current rumour would be Shovel Knight…

Persona 4 Golden (Vita)

Every day’s great at your Junes!

A little history on this first. Over two years ago, I bought Persona 4 Golden cheap. I’d wanted it anyway – despite not really understanding much about the game besides “JRPG in a modern day setting” – because everyone seemed to rate it. At the time I wrote:

The fantastic yellow submarine/katamari hybrid opening sequence segued into Shenmue before becoming something somewhere between Phoenix Wright and Eternal Sonata, via a Japanese dating sim and The Ring.

Perfectly my sort of nonsense then. I started playing it, got about ten hours in, then just stopped. There were a few reasons. I bought Akiba’s Trip at the same time, and that was vaguely similar but much more accessible. I was also struggling to understand the whole Persona system (I’d never played a game in the series), and I was panicking I’d run out of time to rescue people from the TV which put an unhappy stress into the game.

The longer I didn’t play it, the harder it felt going back to it. I’d pretty much binned the Vita after a few months and so Persona 4 Golden was, sadly, abandoned.

Then, last year, I bought, played, completed and absolutely loved Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE on the Wii U. It was the Akiba’s Trip aesthetic that drew me in, but it was the Persona-like gameplay that kept me hooked. I quickly realised it was a Persona game in all but name – and not surprising since it’s a spinoff from the same source Persona 4 Golden is. It has some simplified mechanics compared to Persona 4 Golden, with the Performa “soul” system being similar to but much more streamlined than Persona’s, er, Personas. Dungeons were much the same. Items and magic even have the same names and effects. Tokyo Mirage is My First Persona, and having beaten it, I felt like I could return to P4G with a better understanding of how it worked.

It was still a while before I fired it up again, but I was absolutely right.

A couple of weeks ago, I loaded my 30 month old save (just after saving Yukiko), and I’ve put almost 20 hours into it since then. It’s incredible.

My two main fears – time running out, and not being able to grind dungeons (something you can do in Tokyo Mirage) – were unfounded. Certainly, you can run out of time, but you’ve loads of it and with a tiny bit of planning and some goal setting, it’s not a problem. And while I found you can’t realistically grind a dungeon forever, you can for a very long time once you’ve met the fox and he provides a way to restore SP (the main barrier to indefinite grinding) in the TV without having to leave. It comes at a hefty price, but doing quests for him reduces the cost, and you gain plenty of money bashing baddies anyway. Phew. Sorted.

With my worries out of the way, I could enjoy the game. Build up my social links without being concerned that I’m “wasting” an afternoon wooing Chie (of course) instead of levelling up in the TV. I’m seeing the benefits of some of these links already too, as my party are gaining follow-up and team attacks and stuff.

I’ve taken on some part-time jobs, mainly because I was finding I needed Courage for far too many of my conversations and the scary janitorial work at the hospital seemed a good way to raise it. It’s a creepy night shift, cleaning empty wards, but more worrying is the nurse who likes to “teach me about anatomy”. She’s wholly inappropriate, what with my character being 15 or something?

Other parts of the game keep opening up. I’ve recently started to be able to fish, catch bugs, and plant stuff in the garden, for instance. Even 30 hours in I’m still feeling like a beginner and this is still part of the tutorial.

As for story progress, I’ve rescued the person after Yukiko (I won’t say who because spoilers, but that sauna dungeon was something else), and the next victim has just been kidnapped. From the Midnight Channel, it’s a woman in a bikini threatening to take it off.

Japanese games, eh?

Oh yeah, and that “Your Affection, Your Affection” (always misheard as “You’re Special” song is constantly in my head now.