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:
I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, it’s a perfectly good sneaky-stabby 2.5D platformer. On the other hand, it’s a terribly disappointing Assassin’s Creed game with a feeble story that weakly continues on from Ezio’s trilogy.
Initially, it feels a lot like the original 2D Prince of Persia game with obvious technical improvements. The more I played it, however, I realised it was really much closer to the Shinobi game on the Nintendo 3DS, only with a bit more emphasis on staying hidden rather than killing everything.
There’s nothing actually wrong with the game, aside from a couple of “endless runner” sections with their trial and error flaws, but it’s not good enough to make me want to play through the other two games in the series (India and Russia). I’m impressed that not being fully 3D worked a lot better than I was expecting, however.
The final boss was rubbish though. After a couple of proper boss fights with Prince of Persia style swordplay – parrying and stuff – you literally just walk up behind him and press a button. Oh, spoilers, sorry.
Well this was a surprise! Sure, I knew it was coming, but to appear today with no warning… that I’d seen anyway.
Farewell is set a few days before Max left for Seattle. Her and Chloe seem to be 13 or so, and much of the episode is about them reminiscing over when they were younger. Indeed, the “aim” is to uncover a treasure they hid when playing as pirates five years previously.
It’s much shorter than other episodes (less than an hour long, in fact), and aside from the spoiler (which shouldn’t be a spoiler if you’ve played the rest of the game), not much actually happens. There’s happy chat between Max and Chloe, a bit of house exploring, and Max finally manages to tell Chloe she’s leaving soon. And that’s it.
Farewell doesn’t really tie up any loose ends, nor does it tell you much you didn’t already know. What it does do, however, is cement how close the two girls were and explicitly show just how hard it was for Chloe when Max left. Making the choice at the end of the original game harder still if you’ve yet to play that.
If you want to watch my playthrough, it’s here. Spoilers and stuff, of course:
I started it about a year ago, but after around 15 hours play GTAV was put away because I bought a Nintendo Switch. And Zelda happened. And then I thought actually getting back into GTA would be hard and I’d have no idea what I was doing any more. A few weeks ago, however, I gave it a go and was sucked back in.
My aim was to just concentrate on the story. A lot of fun is to be had in GTA games just messing around, doing the side missions, or (my favourite) Taking A Bike Where A Bike Shouldn’t Go, but my priority was to get the main missions done to clear the game off my backlog. And that’s what I did, although often it was difficult to tell what was a main mission and what was a side mission. Sometimes the mission “trail” went cold, and I’d have to do some other tasks before I was back on the path.
There’s not a lot to say about the game that hasn’t be said elsewhere, not least because it’s pretty old now. What I found, however, was that it was really rather good, but it’s too big. There’s too much in here. You can’t mark it down for that, but for me, so much of it was wasted. Case in point: in the end credits I saw a golf course. Did I see a golf course in the game? No. Can you play on it? It seems yes. Wasted.
Oh ho. Did you see what I did there.
Mechanically, the game is fine. I pressed the wrong buttons hundreds of times because there are so many and they change function depending what you’re doing, but that’s mostly my fault. I never managed to find a camera position when driving that I was completely happy with, but I coped.
Importantly, the story is pretty good. I’m not convinced that in any real world, Michael, Trevor and Frankin would ever even give each other the time of day let alone cooperate on a massively dangerous bank heist, but it sort of works in the game. Where the story isn’t perfect, the characters are. They’re excellent.
I suppose to summarise, it’s not perfect, there’s a lot more I could do (but probably won’t), it was fun, funny, varied and I enjoyed it. It’s no Vice City, but then nothing is.
There was literally some old blood in it. In a toilet. Ew.
In most ways, it’s more of the same. Of course, The Old Blood is a prequel to The New Order, so being set completely in 1946 means the more technologically advanced weapons and gadgets don’t make an appearance. There’s no laser cutter, for example.
The scope is a lot smaller too, with no space missions, giant tripods, or lightning powered mechs, but that’s not to say it’s dull. The big robot dogs make an appearance, and one of the game’s bosses does appear in a very Wolf 3D Mecha-Hitler way (it’s not Hitler though, I should say). Then of course there’s the zombie outbreak that covers most of the second half of the game…
The main gameplay differences manifest in a new weapon: A two part pipe which BJ uses variously to climb walls, stab necks, use zipwires, crowbar things open, and wedge doors. Combat remains similar to The New Order, but I found the “kill the commander(s) otherwise the grunts keep spawning” sequences seemed to happen all the time. Especially in the first half of the game, in and around the actual Castle Wolfenstein itself. I’d started to tire of it well before I completed the game.
Another difference was that areas seemed to be much more open and larger than in the New Order (like the docks, or the town), or much more claustrophobic and narrow (like the caves and some areas of the castle).
The Old Blood is also quite a bit shorter than The New Order, but although I enjoyed it I wasn’t feeling it as much as the other game so I’m quite happy with it ending when it did. It’s still a great game, but not up there with The New Order.
I have said before that I’m not a big fan of first person shooters. I’m not totally against them, and there are many I have enjoyed over the years, but they’re largely ignored. Wolfenstein: The New Order, however, has a plot that interested me, got praise from a lot of people (some of whom also wouldn’t normally play FPS games), and is a followup to the original Wolfenstein 3D from way back when – which I really liked.
Then, thanks to cheap credit and offers, I picked it up for less than two quid on PSN. Definitely worth a go, right? And oh god yes. It’s brilliant.
Like the original (and probably the sequels and reboots since that have passed me by), you play as virtually indestructible soldier BJ Blazkowicz. A man who shrugs off gunshot wounds and being stabbed, and is capable of carrying round several tonnes of heavy weaponry at all times. The game opens in 1946 as you and your allies attempt to storm Deathshead’s castle, but things don’t go well and BJ ends up with shrapnel in his brain following an explosion. He’s treated in a Polish mental asylum for 14 years, drifting in and out of conciousness, until the Nazis come and shut the place down (and kill nearly everyone) where he “awakens” and escapes.
So begins the game properly, with BJ in 1960 trying to find the last remnants of the allied resistance, and then helping them strike back at the Nazis – and ultimately Deathshead himself. It might have an alternate history premise, but the plot is utterly insane. The resistance are hidden under a fountain in Berlin itself. There’s a guy tainting the Nazi “super concrete” (that they built all their cities with after the war), who is some sort of Jewish sage with the key to an ancient store of advanced technology (some of which the Nazis have already made use of – hence winning the war). The store? Under the sea, of course. So BJ has to steal a U-Boat, by hiding in a torpedo.
And then he goes into space.
Look, it all makes sense in the game, but the important thing is that as mad as the story gets, the gameplay is just perfect. It’s not all shooting Nazis with increasingly bigger guns, although that’s obviously a big part. There’s stealthy bits, fences to laser through, items to find, and completely over the top set pieces. Car chases, mechs, bits where you’re stripped of all your weapons. It never gets dull.
My only complaints would be that ammo seems to run out far too quickly, and there are a couple of sections (one on the bridge in particular) which are inordinately harder than the rest of the game. But that said, it’s still fantastic and I’ve the prequel – The Old Blood – lined up in preparation already.
Oh yes, and here’s my complete playthrough. If that’s the sort of thing you want to watch. See me die 412653451 times!
Firstly, there are some great toilets in the game. I feel that needs to be said because although there was an inevitability I’d buy the game anyway, I was tipped off about them and it just made me want it more. One of them even features in a most unusual way. More of this sort of thing.
What Remains of Edith Finch tells the story of Edith Finch, returning to a really quirky house where she used to live, after the death of her mother prompts her to discover “family secrets”. The main one being the open secret that the entire Finch clan seems to be cursed and everyone died in unusual circumstances, leaving Edith the last of the line.
It plays out as a narrative discovery experience, and feels a lot like Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. There’s no actual paranormal stuff, like in Ethan Carter, but there’s more mystery than the story and house in Gone Home, so it fits somewhere between the two.
As you explore the house that you’d lived in for years but was never able to freely roam (as relatives died, their rooms were sealed off), how each person died is revealed and some of the mystery surrounding them explained. Edith discovers the conflict between Edie (her great-grandmother, Finch matriarch and oldest surviving member of the family) wishing to embrace the family “curse”, and her mother wanting to hide it from Edith and leave the house which she believed would save them.
Gameplay is sparse as you’d expect from this genre of game, with little more than operating handles and latches. As you read messages left by your relatives before they died, or letters, poems or even comics written about them, parts of their stories play out. It’s here where more control is given, such as chasing a bird, swimming in a bath, or flying a kite.
It’s only a couple of hours long, but Edith Finch is interesting. I didn’t get answers to every question (and seem to have missed how Sanjay died completely), but perhaps that’s not the point.
I can’t say much here, because even some of the basic plot points are massive spoilers.
What I can say, is that oh my did the story twist and turn there. Everything I thought I knew was wrong, and then that was even more wrong.
And that’s the story done. Some parts don’t quite fit with how Rachel was portrayed in the first game (she was much more… promiscuous there than she seemed here), but how close she and Chloe became makes that scene in the original even more horrible.
On the whole, it was a great game. I wish, in a way, that it actually came before the first game rather than be released afterwards. I know that was never going to happen, but my suggestion to people who haven’t played either is to play this first. Why? Because the first game builds on this one rather than the other way round. It’s deeper, more important, more epic, and you’d gain a time travel power rather than feel you’ve lost one.
There’s another chapter coming soon – with Max in it – and I’m looking forward to that, especially to see how it fits in with the rest now. I think it’s supposed to be set before Max moves away? We’ll see.
Here’s the massively spoilerly playthrough, if you’re interested:
OK, so it’s still low-key compared to the original Life is Strange, but the story is compelling now. There’s been a major twist (that I won’t spoil) which although nowhere near the scale of the cliffhangers from the first game, is still a must see.
Chloe and Amber shared a kiss too. I made them. Genuinely, it seemed like the best option, and instead of being pervy or voyeuristic it was really sweet and romantic and lovely. So well done to Deck Nine for dealing with that in that way.
Overall, and there’s another chapter to come next week so things might change (although that’s unlikely), I can’t say Before the Storm lives up to Life is Strange’s legacy yet. There’s not enough to it, it doesn’t have the sci-fi pull, and Chloe’s new actor pulls me out of the game too much (she’s great, but she’s not Chloe). The story, however much “less impressive” than the other one it is, is still excellent though.
Here be spoilers for the playthrough, if you’re interested: