Thirty Flights of Loving

thirtyflights

This game was initially created as a bonus for a Kickstarter campaign for a video game podcast. It got surprisingly positive review scores from the media. But, while it was praised by most critics, users generally found it underwhelming and even questioned whether it should be called a “game”.

Amount Played: 30 minutes; complete game

Impressions

I disagree with those who don’t think this is a game. It is a creative take on interactive fiction driven by user control. But, given its content, it could have been presented in a better way, like an animated short. As I played through it, I kept thinking that I wanted to play other games with more depth.

I nearly gave up when the game crashed halfway through, but I was progressing so quickly that I didn’t mind trying one more time. I ended up spending more time replaying the portion after the last autosave than I did in completing the rest of the game.

Overall, I enjoyed the broken up story that keeps skipping ahead while showing the occasional flashback. There was definitely something deeper to it than the parts you play, but it all happened so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to care.

If you’re in the mood for a fun cel-shaded game, play XIII.

Pros

  • Art style and sounds are good
  • Interesting way to tell a short story

Cons

  • Takes longer to make sense of than to play through
  • Feels like a student project made in Second Life
  • Should be freeware

Video

Trailer from the official site:

The Unfinished Swan (PS3)

swan

I don’t always jump on new download-only games, but I could not resist trying this game that looked so serene, like Flower or Journey. I had a friend over one night, and hearing that it was a short game, we decided to take turns playing while the other watched until we beat it.

Amount Played: 2 hours; one full play through

Impressions

The story begins just like that, a story in a book for children. It doesn’t feel drawn out, nor does the content seem too childish, and it really sets the tone for the game itself. Then you’re left with a blank white screen, a canvas of sorts, on which you’re free to discover the world that awaits. I won’t go into detail on what happens then, and I suggest you avoid watching any gameplay videos if you are genuinely curious about playing.

The game claims to be “about exploring the unknown”, which is a safe way to say it’s not going to have any really creative puzzles. It turns out to mostly be just things to alter in the environment, though it does grow in complexity. I did, however, experience a few moments of awe, but mostly because of the visual presentation.

Pros

  • More than the tech demo it appears to be
  • Great voice acting and an orchestral score

Cons

  • Short, very short, but with some replayability

Video

A teaser trailer from Playstation.

To Be Continued

As I play more games, I find some that I want to play to completion. The original intent of this blog was to provide impressions of short, initial play sessions, but I cannot constrain myself.

Posts will become less frequent, but I will not abandon this blog completely.

 

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (PS3)

pasbr

I had a friend visiting last weekend, and he asked if I had PASBR. I said “no, but I want to try it”, and we immediately set off to buy it. He’s a big Super Smash Bros. fan, and I always enjoyed that game as well, so we decided to give Sony’s version a try.

Amount Played: 4 hours; dozens of 2-player versus matches, and 2 story modes

Impressions

Before we tried anything else, I booted up the game’s tutorial to get a quick understanding of how it’s played and what the rules are. The first part instructed me to use the left thumbstick to move my character to the indicated zone. So, I quit out of the tutorial. I’m sure there were some useful lessons in the later parts of the tutorial, but they really should have just given me a list of things to learn that I could select from at will. Even a single two minute video explaining the rules and a screen showing a gamepad mapped to game controls would have been more acceptable.

So, without knowing how to play, we set up a Versus match and dove in. The game seemed to make sense until we started comparing it directly to Smash. The two big things we noticed were: 1) there’s no damage meter, and 2) moves are wildly different between characters. In our first match, we ended up in quadruple overtime, unsure what the win condition was. Then by accident, one of us finally killed the other, and the match finally ended. You can only kill other players with a Super move. As you hit your opponents, you collect points (AP) toward building up a meter by your character’s portrait. It goes through three levels, and when it levels up the game announces your level in a voice that pales in comparison to the Unreal or Halo announcers.

It’s not obvious how to add AI characters in Versus mode. We even started to believe it just wasn’t possible. We gave up trying but later read that the host player can select the AI combatants after choosing his own character by simply pressing right to the next empty character slot and then selecting a character. You can select the random portrait for AI players as well as yourself. But, when we finished that match and returned to the character select screen, the AI players were gone, and I had to button over and select new ones. There is a setting to “remember AI”, but that does not remember the random option, so you are forced to button over anyway if you want to change who you’re fighting against. It was also disappointing to find that the game does not remember some Versus settings like increased AP generation from match to match.

In Story mode, you select a difficulty level. Then you choose a character and get a unique cinematic explaining his or her back story, which is the same story you’d see in each of the character’s individual titles. It is a series of still images with a narrator telling the story. Then you face off against one AI opponent for no apparent reason, and the story is never mentioned again. Playing As Kratos, I reached the final boss, Sweet Tooth, in a battle that took place in a special PlayStation themed level that reminded me of the Master Hand boss fight in SSB (N64). Sweet Tooth killed me, so I didn’t get to see the ending of Story mode, but I just watched a video, and it looks like that boss character is random, and other AI-driven characters jump into the fight before it ends. What’s more, there is a giant purple head that empowers your opponents and attacks you itself, so the boss fight is special.

The following are characters I sorely missed (read: not in the game): Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Lara Croft (by herself, not as a single Super assistant for Nariko), Solid Snake (probably missing because he was in SSB Brawl), anyone from Resident Evil, anyone from Final Fantasy, Rayman, and Gex. Notice that I left out Abe (Oddworld) and Ico; I’d rather not see them with lots of super abilities.

Pros

  • Good controls.
  • Cool boss fight.

Cons

  • Characters are too wildly different, so there are obvious balance issues.
  • Settings don’t work as well as they could.
  • Two characters are Cole from Infamous.
  • No characters to unlock, just a couple nobodies available as paid DLC.
  • Lots of more iconic (and PS exclusive) characters are missing.

Video

Gameplay demo from the Sony E3 2012 press conference.

Happy Winter-een-mas!

The holiday was created by Tim Buckley, creator of the web comic Ctrl+Alt+Del.

“Winter-een-mas, in it’s essence, is a holiday for gamers. It is a celebration of games and those who play them. Video games allow us to do things, go places, see stuff that we couldn’t in real life. They can be an escape from reality, a release after a long day, a fun activity with friends, or just an enjoyable way to pass time. They give us a lot of entertainment. So why shouldn’t they be celebrated?

And in the same spirit, gamers themselves are extraordinary people. There are millions of people world-wide that enjoy video games. Some are hardcore fanatics, some are casual gamers. But we are all part of the same community, and it’s a community to be proud of.

The Winter-een-mas season lasts all of January, with the actual holiday lasting seven days, January 25-31.”

Here are some links to the related stories he created over the years:

2003: Winter-een-mas

2004: A Winter-een-mas Story (7 pages)

2006: Persistant Buggers, The Will of the People

2008: It’s a Gamer’s Life (7 pages)2007: Multiple (19 pages)

2010: Where Games Come From (3 pages)

2011: Sillies (7 pages)

2012: The Game Games Bowl

 

 

Temple Run 2

templerun2

I’m always willing to try new mobile games, especially free ones that get so much public notice. I never tried the first Temple Run, so I had to join the 20 million others who downloaded this one. The game is available for both iOS and Android. There is also a version skinned for the Disney movie Brave, but it costs a whole $0.99.

Amount Played: 1 hour total; 30 runs

Impressions

The simple jump or slide option reminds me of my favorite game in Fuzion Frenzy (Xbox), Twisted System. But there’s a lot more to this epic, endless runner. The path is divided into three segments: left, center, and right, and you tilt your phone left or right to run down one of those. There are also a lot of 90 degree turns on the path, which you swipe left or right on the screen to navigate. You can also double-tap when you accumulate enough power to activate your Powerup, which you can only equip one of from seven choices: Shield, Coin Bonus, Boost, Score Bonus, Coin Magnet, Gem Bonus. Shield is the default you start with. The latter two are unlocked by reaching levels 5 and 10, respectively. The others are unlocked by purchasing the three other characters for crazy amounts of coins.

It’s easy to collect coins, which is good because you need a ton of them to purchase upgrades. You can even purchase a coin multiplier bonus that takes effect after 1,500m in a run. To put that in perspective, that distance is  just above half my average.

Sometimes you stumble on things instead of simply dying. It’s nice that the game distinguishes between a small mistake and a deadly one. When you do stumble, the beast chasing you shows up on screen, and if you stumble again he will catch you, ending the run. If you manage to keep running smoothly though, he will shortly fall behind again.

Five times in a row I thought it was a good idea to jump off a cliff, when instead you should turn. It wasn’t until a few runs later that I realized you can turn in mid-air if you accidentally jump, but you have to be quick. In fact, jumping then tilting is the best way I’ve found to stay on the path when you reach a broken bridge.

After running for a full minute, I reached a mine cart area. In there you need to tilt to go down the correct path and duck to avoid wooden beams. Right after the short tutorial portion, I was decapitated by the first beam. My head didn’t really come off, but my run was over.

The pause button is well placed, in the bottom right corner, and you can press it at any time. The pause options are Resume, Restart, or return to Menu. Unfortunately, if you pause in the middle of a jump, when you resume the game will forget you should travel in a parabolic arc and instead drops you immediately to whatever lays below. After succumbing to such a death, I also lost the Run Again button on the main screen. So I tried returning to the menu and pressing the Play button there. The game booted up but was soft-locked looking at the temple exit where you start your runs. I hit the iPhone’s home button and reloaded the game. Then I hit the Resume button on screen and the run began as normal.

My best score is 293,480 in 3,106 meters with 1,218 coins collected. How’d you do?

Pros

  • No pop-up ads to accidentally click on.
  • Best 3D running game I’ve ever played.
  • The screen turns off if you let it idle for a minute.

Cons

  • Pausing kills jumps, and you (if you were jumping over something dangerous).

Video

The official launch trailer from developer Imangi Studios.

The Cave (PC)

thecave

I love graphic adventure games. My three favorites off the top of my head are Beneath a Steel SkyThe Neverhood, and Grim Fandango. Some newer ones have impressed  me a lot as well, particularly Machinarium and Gemini Rue. This game comes from the mind of Ron Gilbert, a veritable god in the genre, so I simply couldn’t resist trying it as soon as possible. It’s worth noting that this game is not the Double Fine adventure game you saw on Kickstarter last year; that comes out later this year.

Amount Played: 3 hours; one full time through

Impressions

There is a cave. You go into the cave. This concept immediately intrigued me, reminding me of Colossal Cave Adventure (the first text adventure game), and as a result every other adventure game I ever played. This didn’t necessarily set me up to expect some revolutionary game, but rather I knew that I was about to have a good time.

The cave itself is the narrator, and its voice is deep, soothing, and ominous. It stays with you throughout the entire game, revealing the plot as you progress through the trials within. There are plenty of jokes thrown in as well, and you have try pretty hard to exhaust the supply before you hear a repeat. There are other characters that speak as well, and they are all as entertaining though limited in the content category.

As for actual gameplay, you start out by choosing from one of seven characters, each with a  unique back story. Once you select a character by highlight him or her and running into the cave, you can still toggle freely to the others and run them around as well. But, once you have taken three into the cave, you’re stuck with them. On a gamepad this is done with the D-pad, instead of simply cycling through them a la Trine.  You can only move one character at a time, but when you reach the occasional unmarked checkpoint, your alternate characters will catch up to meet you there.

Throughout the game you must use all three characters you chose, as they have different abilities to solve various puzzles. Before you think this is a Trine ripoff, remember that director Ron Gilbert’s own Maniac Mansion (1987) made you switch characters mid-game to solve puzzles. What sets The Cave apart though is that each one of the characters has an entire zone dedicated to them to tell their story and use their abilities. One of my choices was the Monk, and his ability was only useful in his zone, though the other two, the Knight and the Adventurer, were needed for many things outside of theirs.

The environment is kind of laid out like LittleBigPlanet, but it’s nowhere near as fun to navigate and run through. The light platforming works well enough though, and collisions never caused me trouble. The backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous, and I’m mildly disappointed that this game is strictly side scrolling. All the puzzles are fairly easy, but I still got frustrated with two or three because I just didn’t take the time to think or look around before jumping in.

Supposedly there is three player local co-op, so I’ll have to try that when my buddies comes over this weekend. It’s definitely worth another two play-throughs to see all the content.

Here are some screenshots I took (and edited) for your viewing pleasure:

    

Pros

  • Unique zones and stories for each of the game’s seven characters.
  • Clever puzzles that never get too hard.
  • Pretty visuals.

Cons

  • Need to play a third time just to see the one character I missed.

Video

The official trailer showing all the characters.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

ninokuni

I love Hayao Miyazaki, and I’ve seen most of his movies at least twice. So when I found out Studio Ghibli was developing a game meant to look like his movies, I instantly pre-ordered it. Unfortunately, I’m not a very big fan of JRPG’s. But, so far this game delivers the magic that makes those anime films shine, and I’m more than willing to deal with the genre’s quirks. This is one of those rare games that has me hooked, and I’ll have to try to balance playing only a little each day while still trying something new to post here.

Amount Played: 2.5 hours

Impressions

Starting Up

The first thing you get to do is install game data to the hard drive. It only took 10 minutes, which was enough time for me to grab a snack to enjoy during the inevitable opening cinematic. I appreciate that they use the hard drive because it probably means faster load times. You will need 3.8 GB free to install it, and I’m not sure what happens if you can’t. You are also forced to choose your text language from five options, and you can not change this unless you delete and re-install the game data (not the same as your save data). The audio language is chosen later, and can be switched between English and Japanese at any time.

The final choice you have to make before starting your adventure is whether to play on Easy or Normal difficulty. The only difference is probably the difficulty of combat, so if you’re just playing to enjoy the story, you might as well choose Easy to save yourself a few hours of combat in the long run. The game’s total duration is estimated to be about 35 hours. Then you are treated to some opening credits just like you’d see in a movie. This isn’t exactly unique for a video game, but it is perhaps more appropriate for this game over others. This sequence shows snippets of different characters at various stages from the game, but they are not long enough to be spoilers.

Dialogue

I didn’t realize there would be so much dialogue, but it is just the beginning of the game, and there is a lot to learn. The pacing might be too quick for younger audiences, but I’m sure I was able to retain everything I learned. If you do forget something, the learning process continues through the first hour of the game, and any time you need to do something for the first time, your companion reminds you how to do it. Every line of dialogue waits for you to press X before continuing to the next. Text writes onto the screen one letter at a time, but you can press X to show the complete sentence if you wish to read ahead. Not all the dialogue is voiced, so you will be using this feature a lot. There is also a setting to adjust the message display speed; the slowest setting is on par with how quickly a 12 year old might read, and the fastest is nearly instantaneous. There is still a ton of voice acting, and in English it is very well done. I opted for the dub instead of the original Japanese with subtitles because the game is so pretty to look at, I don’t want to miss a thing.

The World

At first it feels like you just walk from one cutscene to the next, but you eventually get transported to the real game world where there are many more things to do. There is a little bit of exploring, mostly find to treasure chests scattered throughout each zone. There is a mini map, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. It even displays a star where your next objective is, and you can turn that off in the settings. This isn’t the sort of game I wish to wander around aimlessly in, though it wouldn’t be too bad because it is so linear. Also, the star doesn’t track side quests, which you’ll have to hunt around for to solve on your own.

As you progress, you unlock pages in the Wizard’s Companion book that give detailed drawings and info on spells, beasts, landmarks, lore, and more. The game keeps track of zone completion percentage and the number of chests you’ve discovered out of how many there are in a given area. The digital Wizard’s Companion book in-game is very nice and presented in high definition. It’s easy to read on a 42″ screen, and there is a zoom feature that should make it legible at any size. Still, I’m upset for not ordering the collector’s edition with a physical copy of the tome. The content is amazing, and this will probably become one of the most sought after game art books.

Combat

There’s a lot of space to run around when you’re outside the city walls. You can see animals wandering around the landscape, so there are no random encounters. Instead, you start a battle by running up to a creature, which triggers the screen to go “woosh”, and it’s on.

I was afraid this would be like Final Fantasy, or even worse, Pokemon. Even if the mechanics in those games didn’t bore me, they’ve been done to death and have no place in a quality PS3 release. Combat in NNK isn’t either of the two, but is somewhat a little of both, though that may just be a convention of the genre. The key differentiator is that you can physically dodge by running around with the left thumbstick. Also in real time, you use the D-pad left and right buttons to select your ability (attack, defend, cast a spell, use an item, or run away). When you select an ability with X, it lasts 3-5 seconds, but can be cancelled at any point by pressing Circle, so you can run around to evade if need be. Running around will not help you avoid magical attacks though, so you need to Defend instead, which if done at the right time can grant you a bonus attack. Throughout each battle, there is a chance for green and blue orbs (called “glims”) to drop on the battlefield, which you can run to and pick up to restore HP or MP. It’s also worth noting that the particle effects on spells and at other moments are bright and beautiful.

After a battle you don’t have to loot anything, and you have just one second to run around and collect any remaining glims. It would be nice if they flew to you, but they don’t. Then you have to sit through a 3 second screen that shows you what you got out of the battle (XP, gold, and items) before you can continue. The return to gameplay only takes about one second more. After some battles, you’ll see the level up screen as well where you can view the increases to your stats, though you do not participate in their allocation. The stats are: HP, MP, attack, magic attack, accuracy, defense, magic defense, and evasion.

Quests

Quests in town don’t give you rewards straight out, but instead you get Merit Stamps that can be redeemed for useful things like new shoes to run faster or a passive boost to increase the number of glims that appear in battle. I love this twist on fetch quests; I finally have a reason to care that someone needs two herbs and a bottle of water that can’t simply be bought from a vendor in town. Some missions simply require you to find something that a person lost. To complete other objectives, you need to use spells on people and things around the world. So far I’ve only used a healing spell on an injured child, but I hope there will be more complicated tasks that require me to choose the right spell.

Pros

  • It’s exactly what I imagined an interactive Miyazaki movie would be.
  • Lots of hand-drawn cinematics as well as in-game cutscenes that look close enough to regular animation.
  • Combat is both familiar and fresh.
  • Captivating story just like every other Miyazaki production, but this one stars a boy.
  • Mobs have hilarious names like Baatender and Teeny Bopper.
  • Bottomless bag and various equipment slots for you and your familiars.
  • No need to backtrack through dungeons.

Cons

  • The music can be a tad extreme at times.
  • The post-battle menu is not optional and stil takes three seconds to “skip” through.

Video

This is the E3 2012 trailer that got me pumped for the game.

Journey (PS3)

journey

If you haven’t tried this game yet, that’s fine, but do so eventually. Don’t even bother with the demo; just buy it. In the event you haven’t played thatgamecompany’s other title, Flower, I highly recommend you get that out of the way first. All my friends who played Journey remarked on how enjoyable it was. So, I set out to see what’s so great about a game I heard is only two hours long and costs $15.

Amount Played: 2 hours; one full play-through

Impressions

The game is pretty linear, but the pacing is just right so you don’t get bored. Unfortunately, there isn’t much extra space to explore in, and when you find ruins off to the side, they are often pointless to visit. There are a couple secrets to discover though, if you care to invest the extra time in your meditation. I recommend waiting for a second play-through to hunt these down.

The game feels good to play, and there are a couple things you do while playing. You can fly for short periods of time, and you can surf down sand dunes. The platforming aspects are executed well; I quickly learned timing for jumps of various distances and was always able to stick my landing. You can also tap or hold the Circle button to speak in musical tones, which is used to activate certain things in the game. I would explain more, but I’d rather not spoil it for you.

I approached Journey as a game to play while meditating (not in the traditional sense, just with a relaxed and open mind). Even though I was nearly entranced by the smooth movements and vast, soothing atmosphere, there was a point in the game where I literally thought “I’m on a journey”. I gasped, pleasant to see the game was appropriately titled. Then I realized how inconsequential that was because the monomyth seems like an easy out for a game that purportedly alters sentiments and evokes introspection. While playing I even drew several parallels with a game I worked on in school, not just in story but gameplay as well. If there is a deeper meaning, it’s lost on me, just like Braid‘s infamous atomic bomb.

I’m flabbergasted that IGN and Gamespot selected Journey for Game of the Year 2012. I won’t argue whether or not it’s a game; there are many more obscure titles that fit that classification, and it’s still interactive entertainment. But, I just don’t see what’s so special about the reasons given for making this GOTY. Most of the game’s elements aren’t new or unique. A lot of the emotional underpinning existed in Flower before it, and frankly that game made me reflect more. The only thing Journey adds is multiplayer, but you can’t even meet up with a real friend for some meaningful co-op.

Pros

  • It’s like Flower, with more visual flair.
  • The orchestral music is fantastic and really sets the mood.
  • There are no puzzles, just things to explore.
  • The game is mercifully short; multiple playthroughs are better than one longer one.

Cons

  • Cloth simulation could be better for how smooth everything else is.
  • Some visual effects are a little harsh.
  • Not the best money to time conversion rate.

Video

I made an extended trailer from some gameplay found in other YouTube videos.