No Man’s Sky (PS4): COMPLETED!

Much has changed. Much has stayed the same. But it’s the changes that prompted a replay of the game that sold me a PS4 over a year before it even came out. Sadly, it was not a happy reunion, and there were more than a few problems…

Bugs are to be expected in games these days more than ever before, but bugs that break the game, then are supposedly patched out, yet still exist, should not exist. It seems along with all the new stuff in No Man’s Sky, a plethora of additional game breaking bugs were added and not completely removed again.

As it was new, I was following the Artemis Path for this playthrough. It involves trying to save Artemis, a fellow traveller, and to do so requires stepping through a sort of base building tutorial. You make a base, build some rooms, employ some staff who give you missions and blueprints, and eventually you have everything you need in order to build a Mind Arc that can rescue Artemis. Only in my case, the game skipped several bits in the middle there so initially, I was unable to craft a circuit board, needed to progress. The game thought I’d been given the blueprints. I had not.

Tyrannosaurus Moose

Thankfully, it was fixed in a patch. Eventually. So I could progress, and make the circuit board and the thing I needed it for. Next up – make some Living Glass so I could use that to craft the Mind Arc, except of course, the game thought I’d been given the blueprint and, again, of course I had not.

Several game patches came and went, and still I couldn’t progress. Someone on Twitter saw my complaints and offered to help: If I joined his game, he could create Living Glass which should make my blueprint appear. So I joined him, and then even more bugs appeared. Sigh.

I could give him the materials, but he couldn’t give them – or anything else – back, as the menu to choose where to send stuff (your ship, roamer, storage, etc.) didn’t show me on his screen. Then we tried him putting them in a storage unit on his freighter, but when I went to take them out they weren’t there. In fact, his storage units showed the contents of my storage units on my base hundreds of light years away. What. Finally, we quit the game and he joined me instead – which actually let him pass on the components to me directly. I didn’t get the Living Glass blueprints, but I did get Living Glass (and a Mind Arc) so I could progress the story at least. My saviour waved goodbye and off I went to give the Mind Arc to Artemis.

Jacks, anyone?

Only that wasn’t the end of it. The place he was supposed to be, marked on the map, wasn’t there. I had no choice but to restart part of the questline and do it all again. That worked, luckily, and a few hours later, I’d finished the game. The most bugged of all games.

OK, yeah. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the exploration, the souping up my spaceship, the naming every star system “Dave” – but that was all there in the “old” No Man’s Sky. The new stuff just gave me more to do, and sadly, it was all broken. Last time, I spent 125 hours on it. This time, “just” 80, around 20 of which was working round bugs and redoing missions. I genuinely think they’ve made the game worse instead of better, which is a massive shame. It’s still great, but it’s too broken for me to recommend it as wholeheartedly as I did before.

Donut County (PS4): COMPLETED!

A very short, very easy, but fun little game. Imagine Beautiful Katamari only instead of rolling stuff up to get bigger, you’re a hole and you make stuff fall in to get bigger. No, I’m not sure how putting more things in a hole makes the hole bigger either.

Spooky hole is spooky.

There’s very little to it more than that, really. Apparently there are puzzles, but these are laughably simple, and there’s a boss fight which is also incredibly easy, but then that isn’t really the point of the game I suppose. What is the point? Put stuff in your hole. And progress the bizarre story.

Oh yeah, and they spelt “doughnut” wrong.

PixelJunk Monsters 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Well this turned out to be disappointing. As a big fan of the original PixelJunk Monsters, this sequel with its incredibly pretty clay graphics (rather than the somewhat minimal ones seen in the first game) was a certain buy. I’d played the demo and yep – it was great.

Sadly, the demo didn’t make clear the horrific loading times. Starting a level? Wait for ages. Want to restart? Wait for ages. Complete a level? Wait for ages. And I mean ages. Literally several minutes in some cases. The entire game took less time to download and install than it takes to restart a level. That can’t be right, can it?

Stupid fat bee things.

And although loading times aren’t the end of the world, they certainly make a difference between “oh I’ve screwed this up, restart!” and “oh I’ve screwed this up, off it goes!”. Why no instant restart? Exactly why does the game need to load all the assets in again even though they’re already loaded? It’s frustrating and kills the fun.

Perhaps the loading times are there to bulk out the game, as there aren’t many levels here either. Around 20 in total, which doesn’t seem nearly enough for a tower defence game, especially since many of the maps look like they were intended to be reused (with blocked off routes opened up) but never are.

Thankfully, the actual game itself is still as good as it ever was. It’s just a shame it’s been hobbled in between the good bits.

Pan-Pan (Switch): COMPLETED!

Having been on sale a number of times, and being pretty cheap already, I’d eyed up the lovely looking Pan-Pan on several previous occasions. Reviews saying it is slightly disappointing tempered my enthusiasm and so I always put my virtual cash away. Until today.

And sadly, the reviews were right. Pan-Pan looks really nice, with its flat shaded, low-poly graphics and almost Pikmin-like world to explore, but it falls very short of excellent for a number of reasons.

Firstly, its world is very small, but it’s the way it appears very open that’s the problem. Most of the puzzles in the game are reachable almost immediately, but some are somewhat obtuse and you’re left wondering if the reason you can’t solve it is because you’re missing the trick, or because you’re not supposed to be able to yet – and there’s no way of knowing.

This little bird doesn’t want you to steal his eggs. But you are a cruel woman.

Secondly, there’s just not enough game here. It’s perhaps ten puzzles in total, and sure, the game was only £2.99 but when I obtained the five items needed to complete the game, I was sure there’d be another chapter – or several chapters – afterwards. But nope, 90 minutes of game and that’s it. No replayability at all.

For what it is, it’s a quaint little thing, and perhaps the sometimes there, sometimes not (it depends where you read) subtitle of “A Tiny Big Adventure” should have tipped me off, but it feels more like a short demo of a larger game, which is a shame.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge – Director’s Cut (PS4): COMPLETED!

I am very much aware that I’m playing through the Shantae games in an intermittent manner and in an incorrect order. This is because of reasons I don’t have to explain to you.

After completing Yoku’s Island Express I was concerned I’d do my usual thing of failing to decide which game to play next, and spend so long flicking through games I own but haven’t played that I ran out of time to play them. Instead, I forced myself to settle on the first title that came to mind from my pile of bought-but-never-played games, which, inexplicably, was Risky’s Revenge. Who knew?

Sadly, I was all too soon back in the same predicament as before I started, since I completed it in around 6 hours.

What’s cookin’ good lookin’?

But it was a wonderful 6 hours. Shantae is a joy to control, a wonder to look at, and just about as perfect a short-but-sweet Metroidvania experience as it is possible to be. The shortness is no doubt because the original Nintendo DSi release of the game (of which this is a partially HD remastered port) was intended to be a three episode game from which only part one ever appeared, but neither the story nor the gameplay suffers from it.

Fitting between the original Shantae for the GBC (which I played here) and Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (which I played here) it tells the story of how Risky Boots, the large-boobed pirate from the first game, steals a magic lamp which – considering you’re a half-genie – unsurprisingly is somehow linked to your genie powers. And, spoiler, the reason why The Pirate’s Curse has you missing all your genie powers. Shantae has to get the lamp back by recovering three magic seals (no, not of the fish-eating variety) which, of course, are guarded by three barons in three dungeons.

The cover art is all new HD

Before you lose your powers, however, you obtain them in this game and they’re the skills needed to unlock areas of the map. As in the first game, they take the form of different creatures you can become by dancing: A monkey who can climb walls, an elephant who can smash rocks, and a naked mermaid who can swim. In addition, each creature has a collectable and necessary upgrade to add further skills.

OH! IS THIS A PUZZLE CLUE?

Most of the characters and areas are reprised from the Game Boy Colour original game, but they’re all redrawn and reanimated to a much higher quality. Even though the Nintendo DS is pretty close to retro itself these days it still looks and moves like a “modern” pixel art platformer. Wayforward really are the masters of pretty pixels. The regions of the map are pretty limited in number, and there aren’t many different enemies, but it doesn’t really matter considering the length of the game. The exploring is good, the backtracking and dancing simplified (for the better) from the first game in the series, and it’s much, much easier – perhaps to a fault as I only died once and every boss was a walkover.

It is excellent though, and I’m very tempted to buy the special edition of the latest game in the series now. If only I didn’t have a trillion other games to work through first, eh? Including the part-completed (and also another Metroidvania) Hollow Knight. Hmm.

Yoku’s Island Express (Switch): COMPLETED!

This game is, now bear with me, a pinball metroidvania adventure game set on an island where you’re an ant who also happens to be the new postman, and you collect fruit whilst taped to a ball. As soon as you arrive on the island, the god creature that oversees it is attacked and it’s up to you to find all the tribal elders who together can heal the god. Oh yes, and you’re armed with a party horn, and hoover up exploding slugs, and wear a little fish in order to swim.

So generally standard game stuff, really.

It’s a pretty looking 2D affair, with exploration broken up by caves and caverns that amazingly resemble pinball tables, and strangely convenient “flippers” dotted around the island to assist in getting you about by flicking you up trees and mountains and so on. I mean, it’s hardly a believable world, not least that all this pinball infrastructure only seems to benefit you and not the majority of the rabbits, rats, fish and various other creatures that you chat with.

Don’t forget to actually deliver letters while you’re out saving the island.

It plays like a metroidvania game through out of reach areas becoming available due to abilities you unlock as the game progresses, which let you blow up certain rocks, swim, or fling yourself around buds, as appropriate.

Yoku’s Island Express is a relatively short game with a compact map, but you criss-cross it many times through various routes and shortcuts so it feels quite a bit bigger. It’s not especially difficult, not least because it appears to be impossible to die (it is possible to get stuck and have to restart from a – thankfully frequently placed – restart point though). Some of the trickier “shots” are frustrating however, and the knack for sucking up exploding slugs seems a little random and so a minor annoyance, but aside from that the only real difficulty is figuring how to get to the points marked on the map.

It’s fun while it lasts, and once completed there’s still a multitude of things to collect and deliveries to make (you’re a postman, remember), so completists will get even more value from this already cheap title. Yoku is definitely worth picking up.

Shenmue (PS4): COMPLETED!

It’s been a while. I’ve started Shenmue via emulators a number of times over the years but it’s been ten or more since I last completed it. I remember the plot, and the basic event timeline, but specifics were like coming to it anew. I was worried that one of my favourite ever games wasn’t going to stand up to scrutiny, especially since this is a pretty bare-bones HD remaster, but it turns out that it was fine. More than fine, actually – it’s still excellent.

Sure, it came from a different era, when developers didn’t have two analogue sticks and a pretty standard way of moving your character in third person in a 3D space. Many years of story based games have now shown what is necessary and what isn’t, when the player needs direction and when they don’t, when repetition is good and when it isn’t – but 18 years ago Shenmue was doing this for pretty much the first time. As such, you have to accept that being unable to skip time and having to talk to everyone after every plot progression is just of its day and move past that to the story.

Yeah like these two are made for each other.

Which, thankfully, is still excellent.

One thing, which I spoke about in much detail on episode 14 of the ugvm Podcast, is how much Shenmue feels like a precursor to the Yakuza series. It’s actually one of the reasons I got into Yakuza in the first place, but going back to it now it’s even more obvious. To add to my podcast comments, the 70 Man Battle at the end of Shenmue is yet another thing that feels very Yakuza – as each game I’ve played has a fight against a huge number of enemies near the end as well. There’s too many similarities between the two series for it to just be coincidence!

Road Rash it isn’t.

Now it’s on to Shenmue II, which I remember less well than the original as I only ever completed it once.

Would you like to watch my entire playthrough?

Gradius (Switch): COMPLETED!

And another NES-game-onna-Switch, bus-based game completion. Gradius isn’t something I remember completing before but at the same time none of it seemed new to me. Which is odd because I don’t often play shooters like this.

Anyway, it was hard, especially the bit with the Easter Island heads, and the final boss was a complete walkover for some reason. All you have to do is stay in the right place and keep shooting – no dodging necessary!

Super Mario Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yesterday, Nintendo finally enabled their online service and with it came a big old pile of NES games for free 1, one of which was – of course – Super Mario Bros.

Like Sonic, it’s a game I have many copies of and of course have played and completed many times. Also like Sonic, I played it again today and completed it again today. Whilst on a bus. It was great.

Notes:

  1. Or at least “free while you have an active subscription”

Sonic the Hedgehog (Switch): COMPLETED!

I couldn’t wait one single day for the UK release of the original Sonic on the Switch, so bought it from the Japanese shop. And then completed the entire game with all the Chaos Emeralds. Without dying.

I may have completed this game a few times before, but never on the Switch although it is probably only the second time I’ve completed it on a bus. I also now have something like 25 copies of it. No, you have a problem.

It’s a great version, building on the 3DS version by M2 by adding some new challenge modes and stuff, and of course it’s huge and lovely on the Switch screen.

Bomb Chicken (Switch): COMPLETED!

I was never not going to buy a game called Bomb Chicken. Especially when I saw it in action.

You’re a chicken, and you lay bombs. You can kick them when you’ve laid them, but other than that and moving left and right, you’ve no other moves or abilities. Using this somewhat limited array of skills, you have to navigate platforms, kill baddies, hit switches and generally avoid touching anything.

Having no jump button is the main enemy you have to contend with, however. You can stack your bombs to gain height, or bounce on some baddies, so simply getting around the levels is different to pretty much every other platformer, and the basis for many puzzles.

It’s not a massive game, but there are some really difficult levels near the end, as well as some bosses, but it’s really rather good. The artwork is great and the animation – especially on your chicken – is really nice. The gameplay is also top notch although I hit a couple of minor bugs (bats you have to bounce on sometimes don’t respawn if you die).

Bomb Chicken is fun, unusual and cheap, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Even when I had to redo level 27 some twelventythousand times.

Yakuza 0 (PS4): COMPLETED!

There’s a hell of a lot of content in Yakuza 0. So many side missions, attractions, events and time wasting opportunities. Most of these are introduced as the story plays out, such as the slot car racing, the arcades and the underground female wrestling. Or Kiryu’s real estate empire building or Majima’s Cabaret Club improvements. Or what about blackjack or pachinko? Karaoke? Shogi? So many different things to do.

I barely touched any of them.

Sure, I played a bit of Outrun, bought a few upgrades for my toy car, and even collected a fair few telephone cards. But 95% of my time was spent progressing the story and oh my what a story.

Kiryu takes down a helicopter with a pistol because of course he does.

Like other Yakuza games, there’s more turns than a slalom skier. The bad guy is the good guy and the good guy is the bad guy and sometimes they’re both and neither and that other guy? Well, he’s that guy. Backstabbing and oneupmanship are the order of the day here. There are rarely friends, more enemies with aligned goals or people with shared respect. Every chapter brings a new “what the?” moment, where often everything you knew is wrong.

As the name suggests, Yakuza 0 is set before all the other main series titles. Back before Kiryu became the Dragon of Dojima, before he met Haruka, before Daigo and while Kazama, Kiryu’s mentor was still alive. Kiryu is, as he always is, dragged into a yakuza power struggle. This time, it’s over a seemingly worthless patch of land in Kamurocho – The Empty Lot.

Kiryu, a fresh faced yakuza newbie in the Dojima Family, is framed for a murder on it, and while trying to clear his name discovers the significance of this tiny piece of land and how owning it could give a huge amount of power and influence to any one of the players vying for a higher spot in the Tojo Clan. Or even in other rival groups.

Every chapter brings a new “what the?” moment, where often everything you knew is wrong.

Yakuza 0

Meanwhile, a seemingly unconnected story involves Majima running a lavish and elite hostess club in Sotenbori, Osaka. Turns out he’s essentially being held prisoner until he manages to raise enough money from his endeavours to pay off his “captor”. Until he’s offered the chance to cancel his debt with just one simple murder…

Every couple of chapters the game switches between Kiryu and Majima and soon you realise there might be something linking the two events, until it’s made conclusive around two thirds of the way in. But are the two protagonists fighting for the same outcome, or at odds?

If you’ve played any other game in the series, or even – to a lesser extent – the similar precursor to the series (Shenmue), you’ll recognise the Deadly Serious Main Game coupled with the Utter Nonsense that goes alongside it. For every attempted mugging on the street (and there’s a lot of it – Kiryu must just have that sort of face), there’s a side story about a girl who wants you to use the crane games to win her toys or a man who can’t walk across a bridge because of the jacket he’s wearing. For every solemn chat about being an orphan or the stress of leadership, there’s a pretend punk rocker who needs help being macho or an almost naked man called Mr Libido who wants to teach you how to get the girls.

You’d think one would totally grate against the other, but somehow, it all works. Even the cringe-worthy bits, like visiting a “Telephone Club” (spoiler: it’s a sexy chatline) or Hardened Gangsters Kiryu and Nishikiyama singing J-Pop, somehow fit in this world.

Just some Chinese Men.

If you’re new to the Yakuza, 0 is the perfect place to jump in. Not least because it’s on a modern console, but also because it’s both chronologically first and also easier to get in to. There are excellent “in-story” tutorials for all the fighting moves and styles, the character upgrade system is now based on money earned rather than XP gained, and the loading times (I’ve recently come from Yakuza 5 on the PS3, remember) are much less obtrusive. Having only two characters to play as – and no forced Idol Mode – helps too.

Some of the minor complaints from the series are still here, such as the slightly annoying camera (especially during fights), NPCs just appearing and disappearing in the streets, and too many muggings (is Japan really like that?), but the good – the fun, the weight of the story and the realised setting – far offset these. And, if you’re someone who wants to do everything there is to do, then there’s even more everything here. It’s the best Yakuza game I’ve played, and although I’ve still Kiwami 1 and 2, and then 6 to do, I’m finding it hard to think how they could improve in this.

Pokémon Quest (Switch): COMPLETED!

Aha! Take that Nintendo! I completed your IAP’d up game without paying a single penny!

Although I should temper that with two things: 1) I never saw the need to pay any money, and 2) where do you even pay money anyway? It was, however, a bit of a grind for the last two worlds due to me not having any decent psychic or electric pokémon.

I think I probably spent around two-thirds of the entire time I played just trying the final few levels on worlds 9 and 10 over and over, slowly levelling up and gaining slightly better power stones, whilst making meals to coax more pokémon into my garden just to use them up in training.

After finally beating those levels, the final boss was actually a walkover taking just three attempts, and then that was it.

Now I’ve some sort of NG+ unlocked, but I don’t think I can be bothered with it. Pokémon Quest started out fun but if it wasn’t for the fact I could stick it on Auto and let it pretty much play itself I’d have given up on it quite some time ago. Even with that, I’ve had enough now.

Pool Panic (Switch): COMPLETED!

Pot as many balls as you can.

A lot of people say a lot of things about the Nintendo Switch, but I bet not many of them say this: it’s the console with my highest bought:completed ratio ever. Almost every game I buy for it, I complete. So that’s something.

Pool Panic is now added to that list, obviously, hence this post.

Imagine the balls from Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker. You know how they sort of come to life when you leave the controls alone? Well, now imagine each colour has a different personality, with some scared of the cue ball, and others chasing it, or jumping over it. Then, imagine that each level is a further deviation from a standard snooker or pool table. That’s Pool Panic.

The first couple of levels resemble standard pool. A green rectangular table with pockets, and you pot all the coloured balls before going for the black. But then, things get stranger. Some of the balls are dogs. Or spiders. Or zombies. The table becomes a scout camp-out or the line for ice cream. Pool is ditched almost entirely for crazy golf. Giant fish eat the balls. There are pirates and monsters and knights and aside from the basic premise – pot the colours, then the black – the game becomes very little like pool at all.

And it’s great. It’s funny, varied and nonsensical, and unlike pretty much any other game you’ve ever played.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

And yet another Lego game beaten. This one was pretty good fun, focussing mainly on Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy and a lot of less well known heroes (and foes). The plot is stupid and has Kang taking various different Marvel locations, universes and time zones and creating Chronopolis by smashing them all together.

What that means is there’s a lot of variety in the levels, with some really geeky references to the comics. Other than that, there’s the whole of Chronopolis to wander round just as you could Manhattan in the original game, with a daunting number of gold bricks to find.

Not sure what else there is to say. There’s little new in the game, but that has never mattered before. The graphics have that same odd light sourcing that Lego Ninjago The Movie also did making some levels very dark and others look a bit strange, but it’s not as bad here as it was there. I wonder if it’s only the way the engine runs on the Switch? Or that I’m only playing in 720p? Who knows.

Anyway, done.