I’d read in a lot of places, and the screenshots didn’t help, that Q.U.B.E. was a poor man’s Portal. Aside from the first person view and the clinical environments, it really isn’t. Mainly because there aren’t any portals, and so the puzzles rely on other quirks instead. Mainly, making use of coloured shapes that do various things – extend, act as a trampoline, create blocks, and so on. You do this to hit switches, move cables, or direct balls, and after each section of the game (of which there are seven) new elements are added, such as being able to rotate parts of the room or direct lasers.
OK, so it’s still a little bit like Portal.
Apparently for the Director’s Cut, they added a story. I’m assuming this is the one sided conversations you listen to on your radio in the game, and if so, before they added them it would have been a very quiet, rather pointless affair. The plot is that you are on some sort of spacecraft made of cubes, and by simply solving puzzles which exist for some reason, you’re destroying the spacecraft. Which is on a collision course with Earth or something. A woman tells you who you are (you’re conveniently suffering from amnesia) and praises you, but then you start getting messages from someone else who says this woman is a liar and you’re going to die. Who do you trust?! (Spoiler: you have no say in the matter).
Anyway, it’s not too difficult (although I did accidentally pass a few of the puzzles without realising), and certainly I enjoyed it, but I can’t say it’s a classic or anything.
My understanding of this game was that it wasn’t anything like previous Assassin’s Creed games. It was written from scratch, didn’t reuse any engine or assets, and had completely new gameplay. The title also suggests it’s the start of the Assassins. It turns out nothing is true, everything is permitted.
Maybe Ubisoft did scrap everything from the series and built it all up again, but it doesn’t show. In fact, aside from the new control scheme (attacks are on the shoulder buttons now), and the biggest map so far, this is just more of the same. But that’s actually fine.
Yes, so there’s a literal eagle vision now (with an actual eagle), and yes, it tells the story of the start of the Brotherhood, but it’s still parkour and stabbin’ just like before. This time it’s set in the achingly beautiful setting of Egypt, which is far more varied than the sand and pyramids you’d expect, but the core missions are still scoping out the enemy, picking them off, and assassinating a series of important historical figures. And it’s so much fun.
Your guy this time is Bayek, a medjay (a sort of trouble fixer) from the region of Siwa, who, along with his wife Aya, is out to get revenge for the death of his son. Bayek, despite the “by ‘eck” link that can’t be unheard, is a great protagonist. He’s well voiced, has real empathy and morals, and is hard as nails. He’s probably one of the best the series has ever had, actually. At points in the game you also get to play as Aya, who is also great but her sections are generally boating (straight out of Black Flag, and so the worst thing about the game) or combat-lite. She also doesn’t have an eagle, which makes the final mission a bit tricky.
I’ve since found out that the next game, Odyssey, is actually set hundreds of years before Origins, not immediately afterwards as the story of Origins might suggest. This does make a bit of a mockery of the name of this game, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I hope they do bring Bayek back for another game though, perhaps round Greece?
I was 100% certain I’d played the original game before. I can clearly remember some parts of the game, some of the puzzles and characters, some of the events from when I originally had it on my Amiga. So imagine my surprise that I actually recognised very little of the game at all, and it turns out there never was an Amiga version. So why did I have the bowl, Bart?
Even more confusing, is how now that I’ve established I haven’t played it before, I remembered the solutions to some of the puzzles and part of the ended. Which is even more baffling as I know I’ve definitely never completed it.
Anyway. In a sort of reverse comparison, I’m going to mention The Secret of Woolley Mountain here as I’d compared that to Day of the Tentacle erroneously so it only seems fair to do the reverse now. In it’s favour, DOTT has much higher production values, but then you’d expect that as it also had way more staff and money. The graphics in particular have moved away from the functional style of the original Maniac Mansion to some really very good cartoon characters and backdrops. Sure, some of this is down to it all being HD and not pixelated like the non-remastered DOTT, but it’s still a world away. The voice acting is pretty good too.
However, as I mentioned in my Woolley Mountain post, the puzzles in these older point and click games are often a bit obscure. They’re not as bad in Day of the Tentacle as they are in Maniac Mansion or something like Grim Fandango, but some are obtuse. Take the use of “Booboo B Gone”, which is suggested by the name it’s some sort of cream or ointment for cuts and bruises rather than actually being Tippex. How you use it on a cat is then also a bit of a reach even knowing that.
That said, it’s well put together, hasn’t aged at all, and was a lot of fun. And very funny, of course.
Sparkle 2, or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Zuma” was a free PS+ rental that I’ve been playing off and on for a few months. It’s not taxing, it’s not hard, but it is fun in the same way Zuma was. It’s just 91 levels of shooting balls at other balls, but it does it well enough and I enjoyed it. Not sure what else there is to say about it, really.
This is something I’d had my eye on for a while (nice looking pixel Metroidvania, so of course I have), and then, just when I was thinking about actually buying it a little while back, it popped up on PS+. Normally, that means it won’t get played at all, but since I’m letting my PS+ subscription expire (it’s just not worth the money now they’ve halved the number of games per month) I decided to give it a go before I can’t play it any more.
And it’s really good! It has interesting game mechanics, not least the literal mechanics of being an actual mechanic with a big wrench, looks wonderful, has a strange but enjoyable story, and is just a lot of fun to jump around in. And that’s the important thing in this sort of game – it has to be a lot of fun to jump around.
Also a big plus, is that it’s nowhere near as difficult as Hollow Knight. Sure, I love that game but it’s punishingly hard. Much too hard. So hard it’s verging on torture rather than enjoyment. But this is possible for mere mortals! It’s true that some bosses took a few attempts, but other than that, it was pretty easy and a lot more fun for that.
Aside from that “hide and seek” boss, of course. That was pants.
Literally rising from your gwave and welcoming to your Doom.
Usually, for me to enjoy a first person shooter, there needs to be some added mechanics. Some puzzles. A story. Something more than just mindless shooting. When I think of games from the genre that I’ve liked a lot in the past, I think of stuff like Bioshock, Wolfenstein The New Order or Dishonoured.
But then I forget the older FPS titles which were very much the opposite – the original Wolfenstein 3D and Duke Nukem. Properly mindless. Open a door? Loads of baddies. Pick up a key? Loads of baddies. Press a button? Loads of baddies.
And now there’s Doom. Or to give it its correct title, DOOM (2016). Which is as anti-cerebral as you can imagine. Most of the time the only thoughts you need are “which gun should I use?” and “has my shotgun got enough ammo?”. And you know what? That’s perfect.
Yeah, there’s a story. Some nonsense about you being awoken from stasis to work for the guy who helped unleash Hell on Mars by un-unleashing Hell on Mars. What the story actually is, is Shoot All The Things. Sure, you also have to destroy a big tower and shut down a computer but you even do these things by shooting everything. Or elbowing everything. What DOOM (2016) adds to the formula is the concept of “glory kills” – damage a demon enough and it glows. Then melee it and you finish it off with an elbow to the neck, or rip off their arms, or crush their face, or tear out their heart, or any one of a number of other visceral dispatches. There’s a reason, besides the gory fun, to do this too: glory kills make ammo and health pop out of the corpse.
But mainly the gory fun. So much gore. So much blood and entrails and faces that explode and dripping dismembered corpses and unidentified severed body parts and fleshy chunks of unknown peoplemeat. Gory fun.
The best bits of the game are the arena type areas where demons all spawn and try to take you down while you run around both manically and maniacally, gunning and elbowing all the time. It’s quick paced, feeling a bit more like Quake 3 Arena than original Doom, and far more fun than I can explain. You’re always forewarned one of these fights is going to happen because of the “Checkpoint” save icon and loads of health, ammo and armour is strewn around. In lesser games I’d see these signs and think, gah – another fight. In DOOM (2016) I’m oh hell yes bring it.
One failing the game has is between these big fights, especially on the levels set in Hell itself, is the platforming sections. Platforming and first person don’t sit well together usually (Mirror’s Edge notwithstanding), and when bottomless pits are added, and enemies who can shoot you as you jump the gaps, it’s just annoying. Thankfully most are short and enemyless. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor point but baffling nobody on the development team thought perhaps it was a stupid idea?
Finally, a mention to the sound in the game. The thrashing metal music is great, but the meaty bassy sound effects and excellent “ambient demon noises” in surround sound are just perfect. It’s not creepy enough to be scary, but it’s certainly worrying, when you’re walking down a corridor and the monsters can be heard behind the walls or above the ceiling or seemingly behind you…
Here’s a video of my complete playthrough:
(P.S. there aren’t many in the game, but the toilets that are there are excellent)
This is the first of the “needs Lego Dimensions but is actually a complete adventure in itself” Story Packs we’ve played (we as in, my daughter and I). We’ve the Ghostbusters and Fantastic Beasts ones lined up too, but decided on this one initially.
There’s very little to write about Lego games. If you know one you know nearly all of them. As a Lego Dimensions expansion, you can use all the characters from other series (Midway Gamer Guy being incredibly useful) as you play. The plot is mostly that of the Lego Batman film, with some divergence. In particular, there’s a whole section set in the Phantom Zone with gravity changes and warps. There’s also a new use for the portal – a “Phase” power which lets you summon sections of up to three different worlds, which you can only access if your character standing on the associated part of the portal.
We enjoyed it. It’s shorter than a normal Lego game, but much longer than a level pack.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Now it’s on to Shenmue II, which I remember less well than the original as I only ever completed it once.
Yes, I’ve been playing games. I’ve not completed any recently so haven’t posted about them. And, all the games I’m playing are pretty long. With all that in mind, here’s an update on them!
No Man’s Sky (PS4)
Having not played the game for almost two years, I started it again. Why? Because Hello Games have effectively turned the original game into a sequel over a series of updates I’d never even looked at since then. And since many people have found bugs and other issues when migrating an old save to the new version, I thought it best to begin again.
It’s certainly different, that’s for sure. I go into a lot more detail on the ugvm Podcast, but in short, I don’t really like most of the changes. The base building is, in itself, fine but it’s not what I want in my No Man’s Sky. Some of the Quality of Life changes, like stacking inventory items and easier ways to make money are appreciated, though, and the new Artemis storyline gives me a new thing to do, so I’m still enjoying it. So much so I’m already 40 or so hours in. Again.
Sanrio Characters Picross (3DS)
Yes of course I was going to buy this. Because I love Hello K–uh picross games. It’s huge, and I’m probably only 15% done so far.
Oh my. Who’d have thought this day would come? A re-release of Shenmue (and Shenmue II!) for a new console? Over the last few years I’ve been trying to find a nice way to play the original Dreamcast games on something more modern, eventually running it in an emulator on a PC streamed to my TV with a Steam Link… only that was a mess and fiddly and didn’t happen. I toyed with a handheld device like the GPD Win, but couldn’t justify the expense. But now – it’s on the PS4 and it’s excellent.
So far in the story, I’ve spent all my money on capsule toys, played with a cat a lot, found some sailors, not found Charlie, and have made it into the wrong Warehouse 8. And I’m loving it.
Hollow Knight (Switch)
When I was trying to find reasons not to buy this, because I already have too many Switch games, I settled on “I don’t like the art style”. Then it was on the eShop for cheap and I bought it anyway. I Am Not Strong.
But I’m glad I did, because it’s amazing.
It’s a Metroidvania, where you play as some sort of beetle with a nail for a sword, fighting other bugs and exploring a ruined world. It’s beautiful, challenging and really very well designed, and after about twelve hours in I thought I’d seen most of the map and then opened up three entirely new areas. It’s big.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just a quick note about this, and an explanation. Firstly, I’m actually writing this at some point in late August not on the 27th July as the post date suggests. Why is this? Because somehow I totally forgot to write a post! I don’t know how that happened and I am convinced I did actually write one, but it seems not.
But yes, I played and completed The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, the free single-episode game that links into the Life is Strange world. It was Very Good Indeed.
Plenty of other places went into the plot and the lore long ago, so I won’t repeat all that here. I did notice at least three links to the Life is Strange games:
It’s hard not to compare Rime to Journey. The art style is similar, your character is basically – bar vague noises – mute, and you wear a red scarf. Unlike Journey, however, there’s a lot more game to Rime, with puzzles and platforming much beyond Journey. In fact, I felt it closer in terms of gameplay to something like Papo & Yo or possibly even Rain.
Rime is also not similar to Rive, a shooter which it doesn’t even slightly resemble but for a year or more I’ve been mixing the two up.
Anyway. There’s not a lot to say in case of plot spoilers, but your boy has woken up on the beach of an island, and has get to a giant keyhole shaped thing at the top of a large white tower. You progress through four main areas filled with beautiful scenery and puzzles, of which there are three main sorts: “how do I get this ball thing from here to there”, “how do I manipulate these shadows to do this thing”, and “how do I make these things line up so when I look through that thing they look like the shape over there”. You can shout to activate certain things like switches to help, and sometimes blocks need to be shunted round in order for stuff to work.
None of the puzzles are especially taxing. I did get stuck on one for ages because I hadn’t noticed there was a handhold to climb up and take me somewhere else! Looking around a lot is key to some of the puzzles and finding routes to places.
Hidden around the world are a number of optional things to find. Pots to be shouted at so they break, keyholes to look through, wooden toys to discovery. Naturally, you don’t even find out these exist until you stumble across one by accident so there’s no way I’d get them all in my first playthrough. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be finding them at all because that’s not incentive enough to play through it again. As much as I enjoyed it – jerky framerate and the odd bug aside – I don’t think it’s the sort of game that needs repeating. Certainly not for a while.
If you’re a fan of spoilers, here’s my playthrough in video form: