Monday, November 27, 2017

Implosion Never Lose Hope Review

For the past several months, I've been chipping away at my #MechMonth game, Implosion: Never Lose Hope, for the Nintendo Switch. Here are my thoughts on this brawler on a budget now that I've completed the campaign:
  • The game offers a good hack-and-slash fighting mechanic with added depth since you can upgrade your mech. Learning to how to chain melee attacks, ranged weapons, and special moves is pretty satisfying.
  • The surprisingly high-production value voice acting and music was pretty consistent throughout. However, after a while, I had trouble following what was going on in the story.
  • The main campaign is pretty robust but starts to feel repetitive after a while. There's only so much that can be done with hack-and-slash gameplay, kill rooms, and the game's limited mix of enemies.
  • Boss battles are a highlight and break up the routine, but some of the later ones feel a bit too bullet spongy for my taste.
  • There are optional challenges in each level that allow you to unlock more upgrades and a new mech. The objectives are fairly bland but they give you something else to aim for as you go through the stages.
  • The free DLC side story is a nice addition to an already good value. Unfortunately, the DLC levels are very long and have no check points, so I eventually got frustrated with them.
  • This game is a solid single player brawler, but it's sorely lacking a co-op mode.
Implosion is a good game for what it is, a single-player hack-n-slash. It was more than enough to be a fun diversion when I had time to kill but wasn't especially compelling either. I think this game is best suited for players looking for lighter fair as a palate cleanser to put between bigger releases.

Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: About 10 hours (Main campaign plus half of the DLC missions)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Doki-Doki Literature Club Review

A wolf in sheep's clothing.

My second title for #VNNovember was Doki Doki Literature Club, another freeware visual novel. This one initially presents itself as a cliche saccharin-sweet dating sim, but as things progress, you'll realize there's more to it than meets the eye. As this game is highly susceptible to being spoiled, I'll be keeping this review short and relatively vague so that anyone who reads this will still have surprises in store for them when they play the game.
  • While the game has certain surprise elements that set it apart, the majority of the time you'll spend with it will be in the form of a classic dating sim. The game's developer absolutely nails the tone, characters, and scenarios of classic 90s PC dating sims. Much to my surprise, before the various twists happen, Doki Doki Literature Club is actually a pretty decent dating sim visual novel in its own right.
  • Since the game is about a literature club, the game's main sections involve sharing poems between the protagonist and the various girls in the club (of course the protagonist is the only male member... I told you this is a cliche dating sim). The protagonist's poems are generated by picking a selection of words from a menu. The player never sees the protagonist's completed poems, but the words you choose will affect your dialog with each girl. Reading the girls' poems is more interesting than I expected. The writing in these sections does a good job of giving the characters a little more depth beyond their otherwise trope-laden personas.
  • Like the writing, the music also perfectly captures the tone of classic dating sims while lulling the player into a false sense of comfort. Unique instrumentation of the music plays while reading each girl's poems, which is a nice touch. The pleasant soundtrack also distorts appropriately when the twists start coming, which is another little detail I appreciated.
  • Without saying what actually happens, when the game finally starts deviating from being a dating sim (you'll know when you get there), it does so in a way that is interesting, but not entirely unique. As someone who has played other indie games that hinge on deceiving the player, I wasn't as shocked by the turn of events as some other players might have been. That being said, some of the twists were very well executed, but I felt that a few were handled a little clumsily.
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience with Doki Doki Literature Club. The main portion of the game was a pleasant nostalgia trip to my days as a dorky teen playing dating sims on my parents' computer late at night. The post-twist segment, while not completely original in concept, was still effective and stuck with me for a while after playing. If you like dating sims and games that go to strange and dark places, I'd highly recommend Doki Doki Literature Club. If you don't like dating sims, however, you will likely find yourself getting bored long before you get to the twist.

Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: About 5 hours

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Narcissu Review

This month, as part of Chic Pixel's #VNNovember Community Game-A-Long event, I'm going to be trying out a couple of visual novels. For those unfamiliar, a visual novel is software that tells a story primarily through static images and text (occasionally accompanied by voice acting). I use the word software here rather than game because while some visual novels involve decision-making and have winning/losing conditions, others are purely a means to tell a story and involve little or no user input.

Naricussu is a freeware visual novel for PC and Android that tells the story of a man and woman that have been diagnosed with a fatal illness. The story is primarily told from the male protagonist's perspective and describes his thoughts about his condition, his interactions with a fellow hospice patient, Setsumi, and how the two of them elect to spend their final days of life. It probably goes without saying that this is an extremely sad story and it is important that one be in the right mindset before experiencing it.

While I have some prior experience with visual novels (primarily of the adventure or dating sim variety), Narcissu is the first completely linear visual novel I have ever tried. Other than tapping/clicking the screen to advance the text, there is no input required from the user. Also, unlike most visual novels, the use of images is very limited and the graphics primarily show scenery rather than characters. Thus, this minimalist experience is much more like reading a short story rather than playing a video game. I was initially disappointed by this, but once I reframed what this experience would be (i.e. not a game), I was able to get into it.

Being a mostly text-based experience, everything hinges on the quality of the writing, which I had mixed feelings about. Narcissu initially does a great job of expressing the thoughts and feeling of its terminally ill characters and succeeded in getting me invested in their situation. However, as the story went on, the writing style and pacing often tried my patience. The author has a tendency to reiterate the same points several times. I frequently found myself saying "Ok, I get it already, let's move on." Also, since the characters' relationship is initially very awkward, there are many conversations that are primarily made of up phrases like "umm...", "never mind", or just "...". As a result, the middle of the story seemed to drag on. It is possible that some of the issues I had with the writing are not the fault of the original author, but are an artifact from translating the Japanese script to English. Making it through the mid-story slog did come with rewards, the late-story scenes pulled me back in and the poignant conclusion left me thinking for some time to come afterward.

In addition to the text and minimal imagery, Narcissu featured some audio embellishments that added to the atmosphere. The context-appropriate background music and sound effects were well-timed with the text and did much to set the mood of each scene. Also, a subtle, but effective Japanese vocal track is included for Setsumi that contributed to the strength of the ending. The male protagonist, however, is silent.

Narcissu is tricky to recommend. If you're in the right mood for a non-interactive tear-jerker of a story and have the patience to get through some writing in desperate need of an editor, you'll probably be satisfied with your experience. For me, I'm ultimately glad I made it through this visual novel but couldn't help but feel like it had the potential to be much better.

Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: About 4 hours

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Mario Odyssey Review


Even though Mario Odyssey has only been out for a week, it’s already become a cliché to refer to it as “an absolute delight”. The truth is that there may be no better phrase in the English language to describe the experience of playing this game. Since the internet has already been flooded with lengthy essays gushing about Nintendo’s newest flagship platformer (you can also checkout my impressions from last week), I’ll keep my rundown simple:
  • Each of the game’s 10+ kingdoms has a unique structure and appearance, but also a unique set of mechanics. Some of this is a function of geography, traversing a wide-open desert is very different from a tightly-packed city, but a big part of the difference between kingdoms is how the capture mechanic is implemented. Often, taking control of some of the more mundane creatures or objects can be surprisingly fun once you get the hang of their move sets. For example, one of my favorite character to capture was an onion with stretchy roots.
  • I was initially thrown off by how many Power Moons there are to collect and how frequently they were found. My concern was that finding them so often would make them feel less special and significant than finding stars in other 3D Mario games. However, I came to realize that what the moons are really doing is bread-crumbing the player through each kingdom. This incentivizes the player to thoroughly explore each stage and gives meaning to reaching the most remote areas of the map. Since finding more moons unlocks more areas to explore, a compelling and addicting loop is created; I quickly found myself saying “just one more moon” at the end of the night, only to end up sucked in for another hour or so.
  • In the past, 3D Mario games have suffered from repetitive and simplistic boss battles. While this is still true for the mid boss enemies, the Broodals, the proper stage bosses are usually much more creative. Many of them are fought while Mario is in the form of a captured character which helps keep the boss battles fresh and ensures that each is mechanically distinct.
  • In addition to the ear-worm vocal theme, “Jump Up, Super Star”, that I had mentioned in my impressions post,  this game as all-around excellent score. The orchestral pieces further add to the sense of place in each kingdom, and on a few occasions in the campaign, vocal tracks kick in at just the right moment to give the scene some extra oomph.
  • The only gripe I had with this otherwise stellar game, was with the controls. While many gamers took, issue with the motion controls (I didn’t have a problem with them), my issue is with Mario’s ever-increasing move set. Since Mario 64, the variety of jumps and flips has ballooned to a level that makes keeping them all straight a challenge. For example, I’ve never found Mario’s sideways flip to be a useful maneuver, but I accidentally executed it several times on narrow platforms, cartwheeling Mario to an unnecessary death. I think trimming some of Mario’s extraneous moves would prevent this and cut down some frustration. Also, since camera control is primarily manual in Mario Odyssey, managing the viewing angle while tackling difficult platforming segments can get tricky.
  • My playtime in Mario Odyssey was split between docked mode with the Pro Controller and handheld mode. While I preferred the TV and Pro-con setup, I also enjoyed playing the game portably and don’t think handheld-only players will be at much of a disadvantage.
After playing for over 30 hours and collecting at least 440 moons, the campaign came to a satisfying conclusion, but there is still so much more to do. There is already a staggering amount of content in the game’s main worlds, and more moons and bonus stages become available after the credits roll. Normally, after such a robust campaign I would be satiated with a game and set aside the extra content for later, but in the case of Super Mario Odyssey I’m immediately eager to dive back in. The game is just that much fun to play. If you have a Switch and pulse, Mario Odyssey is a must-buy game.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: About 30 hours (Main campaign with 440 moons)