Monday, June 25, 2018

Crypt of the Necrodancer Review-like

In the past, music games and Rogue-likes are two genres I've always struggled with. However,
it's currently the last week of #RhythmGameMonth and there's a major game sale going on, so I decided to give Crypt of the Necrodancer a shot.

In this game, the player navigates through four procedurally generated dungeons while moving on beat to the background music. The enemies move along with beat as well. Since this is a
Rogue-like, any items collected or progress made within each dungeon are lost upon losing a life. Thus, each dungeon must be completed in a single life. The only thing the player gets to keep after a dungeon attempt is the game's currency, diamonds. Diamonds can be spent on persistent upgrades, such HP increases, that will make subsequent dungeon runs a little easier. Diamonds can also be spent on expanding the pool of temporary items that can appear within treasure chests inside the dungeons. While diamonds can be spent after a failed dungeon attempt, they do not accumulate between multiple runs; they must all be spent before starting another run. For example, if you want a permanent upgrade that costs 12 diamonds, all 12 of those diamonds must be gathered in a single run. Overall, the game flow consists of making repeated attempts at a dungeon in hopes of either: A) making it all the way to the end, or B) gathering enough diamonds to buy an upgrade that’ll improve your chances of success in subsequent runs.

  • Since this is a rhythm game, good music is essential. Thankfully, composer Dan Baranowsky delivers in a big way. If you’ve ever wondered what fighting skeletons and dragons at a rave would be like, play this game to find out. I really enjoy chip tunes and electronic dance music, so much of my motivation to push through the dungeons would be to hear the next level’s tracks. The game comes with several alternate music mixes as well and there is even an option in the PC version to replace the background music with your own MP3s.
  • Like many indie games, this one uses a pixelated faux-8-bit graphical style. What sets this one apart is the extra layer of personality applied to the sprite animations. Everybody dances. The golems roll their shoulders to the beat, the skeletons wave their hands in the air (like they just don’t care), and the shopkeeper accompanies the background music by singing opera.
  • This isn’t a game that you can just hack and slash your way through. Every enemy moves in a distinct way and each weapon behaves differently. Thus, survival requires figuring out the right approach to any given scenario. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved.
  • The procedural level design system works quite well. While no two runs are exactly alike, there is a consistent theme within each dungeon that makes them feel distinct. With a small handful of exceptions, the game does a good job of generating level layouts that make sense and are fun to explore.

  • The Rogue-like design of this game means you will be replaying the same dungeon dozens of times before you actually make it through. The randomization of the level layouts helps a little bit with the repetitiveness, but at a certain point, I was keenly aware that I was sinking a lot of time into this game without making any tangible progress.
  • Crypt of the Necrodancer is both difficult and unforgiving. While I understand this is part of the appeal of the game for some players, I eventually became frustrated with the combination of sustained perfection and luck that was required to succeed. When I would have a winning run, it was generally because I managed to maintain the intense focus and patience needed to avoid taking too much damage and be lucky enough to find chests with high-level gear.

If you’re wondering why this is a “review-like” rather than a real review, it’s because I haven’t managed to beat this game and I don’t like giving review scores to games that I haven’t finished. Of the game’s four dungeons, I’ve managed to beat the first one and make it as far as the boss of the second one, but with only a sliver of health left. After spending several hours banging my head against the wall in the second dungeon, I found myself at the point of diminishing returns and have decided to set the game aside. I'm disappointed that I won't get to experience the second half of the game any time soon but at this point, but I'd rather move on to something else than burn myself out on a game that I otherwise enjoyed.

Time Played: 6 hours
Recommendation: A great choice for Rogue-like fans, worth trying (on heavy discount) for everyone else

Monday, June 18, 2018

Bastion Review

 The Kid had a lot of pretty things to smash...

I've been meaning to play Bastion for quite some time since friends have been recommending it to me for years. While many people gush SuperGiant's first game, I came away with mixed feelings.

  • The dynamic narration is easily the most interesting and distinct feature of this game. I can imagine context-sensitive narration was especially impressive back in 2011 when this game was originally released.
  • The watercolor art style looks really nice and gives the environments a fairytale-like quality.
  • Being able to upgrade weapons and change load-outs gives the player a lot of tactical options. I was able to experiment with a lot of different play styles by changing my character's melee weapons, ranged attacks, and special moves.
  • The gameplay is fun at first but feels repetitive long before the game is over. While this game is often referred to as an "action RPG", it really feels more like a hack-and-slash action game to me.
  • I found that since the environments fade in and out of existence, I wasn't really motivated to explore.
  • As cool as the narrator was, I didn't find myself particularly engaged in the story he was telling. I think the fact that the story is almost entirely conveyed to the player via the narrator made me feel somewhat detached from the characters and world.
Overall, I found playing Bastion to be an interesting experience but I was ready for it to be over by the time I got to the end of the game. The artistic presentation and weapon variety were just enough to keep me bashing my way through until the credits.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 5 hours, 24 minutes

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

E3 2018 Highlights: Nintendo

With everything else crammed into Sunday and Monday, Nintendo gets and an entire day of E3 to itself. Since I'm a huge Nintendo fan, this works out well for me. The event was a tight 42 minutes that was a rapid-fire series of trailers in the beginning and then a lengthy deep-dive into Super Smash Bros in the back half.
  • Daemon x Machina -  A mecha action game from the producer of Armored Core. As I had mentioned in my previous E3 post, I'm a big fan of giant robots blowing each other up, so I was all about this. I really liked the art style and high-contrast colors. (trailer)
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna The Golden Country - The story expansion for Xenoblade 2 was shown off and it looks like a pretty robust package. It appears to be a prequel story set before the events of the main game. (trailer)
  • Pokemon Let's Go - More gameplay of the previously announced Pokemon gaes was shown. I'm interested in this mostly because it appears that the entire campaign can be completed in co-op mode. (trailer)
  • Super Mario Party - Mario Party will be returning to its original digital board game format. I was amused by the fact that the trailer for this showed people playing it while camping in the woods, a continuation of the Switch advertising style. (trailer)
  • Fire Emblem Three Houses - The new Fire Emblem game for Switch looks like it's going to be really good, however, we'll have to wait until 2019 find out for sure. It uses top-down perspective when commanding units and then transitions to a 3D Musou-like view for combat animations. (trailer)
  • Fortnite and Hollow Knight - Each of these games that were previously available on other platforms were announced for Switch. Both were made available immediately on the eShop at the end of the presentation. When I played Fortnight on PC, it didn't really grab me, but knowing how popular the game is, I'm glad it's available on Switch now. I've heard that Hollow Knight is excellent, so I'll be keeping that one in mind next time I'm looking to pick up a new Metroidvania game. (trailers: Fortnite and Hollow Knight)
  • Super Smash Bros Ultimate - The bulk of Nintendo's presentation was devoted to the new Smash Bros game. The main takeaway was that every playable character that has ever been in any Smash game will be present in this one, even including oddball ones like Solid Snake and Ice Climbers. It was also revealed that Daisy is being spun off from Peach to be a new character and that the roster would have at least one all-new character: Ridley from Metroid! Previously, it was announced that Splatoon Inklings are also being added to the game; some of their mechanics were explained in more detail during the presentation. Overall, this looks like the most content-rich version of Smash yet, but not a dramatic change from what we've seen before from the series. (trailer)
While this wasn't a megaton blowout of a presentation, the games that were shown looked like a lot of fun. Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Octopath Traveler will be holding down the fort for the rest of the year as far as major new releases go and there are a couple of 2019 titles that look really promising. See below for the screenshots I took while watching the conferences.

Also, if you're interested in pre-ordering any of the games that were shown and also supporting this blog, please use this Amazon affiliate link:  Amazon Video Games

Daemon x Machina

Xenoblade 2 DLC
Pokemon Let's Go
Fire Emblem Three Houses
Super Smash Bros Ultimate

E3 2018 Highlights: Ubisoft, Sony, Square Enix, Limited Run, and PC Gaming

The second day of E3 was stacked really heavily with conferences! As excited as I was for E3 this year, this was a lot to take in within a single day! I did my best to round up the highlights, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Most of Ubisoft's showing this year were status updates on the games they showed last year that have yet to be released. Much of what they had on offer this year wasn't my thing (gritty realistic shooters), but there were still some things to get excited about.
  • Beyond Good and Evil 2 - We got to see more cinematic scenes of this game after last year's brief glimpse. There was also a momentary look at very early gameplay footage. In the preview footage, it was revealed the Jade, the protagonist of the first game, makes a return, possibly as a villian this time around. Ubisoft said that the game is only being shown behind closed doors this year, so Beyond Good and Evil 2 is probably still several years from release. (trailer)
  • Mario + Rabbids Donkey Kong Adventure - The upcoming expansion for Mario + Rabbids was presented with a live musical performance featuring Grant Kirkhop, the game's composer. The gameplay footage showed Donkey Kong and Cranky Rabbid as new playable characters as well as a beach-themed world to explore. I'm looking forward to this one! (trailer)
  • Starlink Battle for Atlas - This was already looking like a pretty solid spaceship dogfighting game, but then came a big surprise: a cross-over with Starfox! Shigeru Miyamoto then took the stage with Yves Guillemot to introduce this new facet of the game. The Starfox content will only be available in the Switch version of the game. I'm a little concerned about this game's "toys-to-life" features but I'm cautiously optimistic about it for now. (trailer)
  • Assassin's Creed Odyssey - I was surprised to see another Assassin's Creed game so soon! This one is set in ancient Greece and lets players choose between a male and female protagonist. Ubisoft heavily emphasized that this game is first and foremost an RPG, which seems like a continuation of the groundwork laid by Assassin's Creed Origin. This was also probably the most graphically stunning game that I've seen so far this E3. (trailer)
Sony had a very bizarre presentation that featured live music, multiple venues, and technical issues. It kind of felt like a mess. However, there was also plenty of game footage shown, though I must admit that much of it was not really my thing.
  • The Last of Us 2 - This trailer probably would have landing differently with me if I had played the previous game and knew the characters. The graphics were sharp and the action was intense and visceral. During the preview, I found the abrupt transitions between romance scenes and gory imagery to be rather off putting. (extended trailer)
  • Ghosts of Tsushima - A samurai action/adventure game with some really impressive enviroments. If any of the games from this conference are going to end up convincing me to buy a PS4, it will probably be this one. (gameplay video)
  • Control - There wasn't much said about this game, but it looks like an action horror game with some surreal visuals. Could be interesting. (trailer)
  • Resident Evil 2 Remake - The PS1 survival horror game is getting a complete modern remake! (trailer)
  • Death Stranding - In the past we've only seen cutscenes from Kojima's trippy new project. There was now some gameplay footage mixed in but it mostly just showed the character walking through the environment. I'm thinking this game is still a long way off from release. (trailer)
  • Spider-Man - We got to see more gameplay footage and get a better feel for the scope of the game world. This looks like it'll be a really fun superhero game. (trailer)

Square Enix 
Square Enix took a page from Nintendo's playbook and streamed a pre-recordeed presentation rather than doing a live stage show. This stream was a mostly no-frills 30-minute showing of trailers for upcoming games. There wasn't anything particularly exciting or surprising here.
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider - It looked like more Tomb Raider. I loved the 2013 game but still haven't gotten around to its sequel. In general, this new one looked good but was nothing groundbreaking. (trailer)
  • Dragon Quest 11 -The PS4/PC version was shown and it showcased a colorful cast of characters. Since I've already got a lot of RPGs on the agenda for this year, I may end up waiting for the Switch version to come out later. (trailer)
  • Octopath Traveler - There wasn't any new information about this Switch-exclusive RPG, but it's my most anticipated game of the year, so it gets a mention. We may see more of it later during Nintendo's show. (trailer)
  • Just Cause 4 - The new Just Cause looked like even more chaotic open-world action and distruction than prior entries. I liked Just Cause 2 a lot since it managed to make open world traversal fun, rather than feel like digital commuting. I might jump back into the series with this one. (trailer)
  • The Quiet Man - A story driven action game that transition between live action cutscenes and CG gameplay. This was only a teaser, so very little information was provided. I haven't seen a game use live action footage like this in a really long time. (trailer)
Limited Run
Limited Run streamed a faux-stage event that made amusing use of deliberately bad CG. Since they're a company that primarily focuses on distributing physical versions of previously-released indie games, there wasn't a lot of news in this even unless you're a cartridge collector (which I am not). However, there were two announcements that jumped out at me:
  •  The House in Fata Morgana - In addition to physical game distribution, Limited Run announced that they are now in the localization business. Fata Morgana is a gothic mystery visual novel that was previously released on PC. While the PC version has an existing English translation from MangaGamer, Limited Run is localizing the PS4 and PS Vita versions which include additonal content. I'm curious to see how Limit Run's localization efforts will turn out. (trailer)
  • Cosmic Star Heroine - This Chrono Trigger-like JPG was released on PC, PS4, and Xbox One last year and its developer has been trying to get it released on Switch ever since. It looks like Limited Run was able to pull that off. I've been interested in this game for a while but have been waiting for a Switch version, so this was very good news! (I couldn't find a Switch-specific trailer but the game will look similar to the PS4 version)
PC Gaming 
I wasn't able to sit down and give the PC Gaming show my full attention, so I only caught bits and pieces of it on my phone. The PC Gaming show tends to feature an eclectic mix of AAA and indie games and this year was no exception. Here are a couple standouts from the parts of the show I was able to catch:
  •  Neo Cab - A cyberpunk noir game about a driver for an Uber-like company. I'm expecting a lot of social commentary in this one. (trailer)
  • Archangel Hellfire - I'm always down for giant robots blowing each other up, and this game looks like it will deliver exactly that. This is a multiplayer expansion to the arcade mech shooter Archangel that was released last year. I didn't realize this during the presentation, but apparently virtual reality equipment is required to play this game. (trailer)
  • Man Eater - A open-world action RPG in which you play as a shark and swim around eating people!? I'm intrigued. (trailer)
  • Yakuza - Sega announced that the Yakuza series is coming to PC starting with Zero and Kiwami! I've been wanting to try one of these games for a while, so I was very happy to hear this. Several other Sega games are coming to PC as well. (trailer)
  • Sable - A really beautiful adventure game with a striking hand-drawn art style. At first I thought I was looking at pre-rendered footage. (trailer)
  • Rapture Rejects - A battle royale game by the creators of the Cyanide and Happiness web comic. It looks like the exact sort of crude humor one would expect from the comic. (trailer)
  • Hitman 2 - The sequel to the 2016 Hitman game. This time 47 travels to Miami to take out targets with all sorts of weapons and tools, including a frying pan and a fish! (trailer)
This day of E3 was so tightly packed with games it's hard to get my head around it all! See below for the screenshots I took while watching the conferences.

Also, if you're interested in pre-ordering any of the games that were shown and also supporting this blog, please use this Amazon affiliate link:  Amazon Video Games

Mario + Rabbids Donkey Kong Adventure
Miyamoto and Guillemot on stage for Starlink
Assassin's Creed Odyssey with new female playable character
Last of Us 2
Ghosts of Tsushima
Resident Evil 2 remake
Death Stranding gameplay
Dragon Quest 11
Cosmic Star Heroine
Man Eater
Rapture Rejects
Hitman 2

Monday, June 11, 2018

E3 2018 Highlights: Microsoft, Bethesda, EA, & Devolver

E3 technically hasn't even started yet and there have already been three major press conferences. Some of these were so dense with material that there's no way I can summarize everything shown. Instead, here are some personal highlights from each show:

Microsoft threw so many games at us at a breakneck pace that it was very hard to keep up with it. In general, I felt that it was a very strong showing that displayed a diverse catalog of games. I went into this show expecting to mostly see gritty post-apocalyptic games (not my thing), and while there still plenty of those, racing, adventure, platforming, fighting, and even kid-friendly content were all also shown.
  • Halo Unlimited, Forza Horizon 4, and Gears 5 - As anybody familiar with Microsoft's first party holdings would expect, their three biggest franchises all had a presence at their conference. The Halo trailer was mostly a teaser to show of the engine, so it will probably be a while before we see anything from that. I don't have much experience with the Gears franchise but Gears 5 showed some pretty intense story cutscenes that seemed to resonate with fans. For me, the highlight of these three was Forza Horizon 4. I've never played a Forza game but this one looked gorgeous; it was probably the most graphically impressive game of the show. Racing across Britain through the seasons looked like a lot of fun. I'll probably renew my Microsoft Game Pass subscription so that I can give some of these a shot when they come out. (trailers: Halo, Gears, Forza)
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps - The vibrant and colorful 2D world of this platformer really set it apart from the other games at the Microsoft show. In some ways it reminded me of a Rayman game. It'll be a while before this one comes out but it looks like something to look forward to. (trailer)
  • Captain Spirit - Another adventure game from DontNod set in the Life is Strange universe (it has a universe now?!). Unlike the previous games in the series, this one focuses on a father and his young son (rather than teenage girls). Other than being some sort of emotional family tale, I couldn't really get a sense for what the game will be like based on the trailer. The game will be free though, so I'll definitely find out. (trailer)
  • Tunic - This Zelda-like game caught my eye during last E3's PC gaming show and it was here again during Microsoft's presentation. It looks much more polished than it did before. I'll be keeping an eye on it. (trailer)
  • Kingdom Hearts 3 - The new Kingdom Hearts appears to prominently feature Frozen which I thought was pretty cool (no pun intended). I don't really understand what's going on in this game otherwise but it looked pretty nice. (trailer)
  • Devil May Cry - A new Devil May Cry was announced. It looks like more of the edgy stylish character action one would expect from this series. The director made an in-person appearance which I thought was a nice touch. (trailer)
  • Jump Force - A fighting game that features characters from a bunch of shonen anime like Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Naruto. I felt like the dark gritty aesthetics of the trailer didn't match up well the characters. (trailer)
  • Cyberpunk - Microsoft snuck a trailer for Witcher developer, CD Projekt Red, in at the very end of their presentation and it was worth the wait. The trailer was mostly cutscenes rather than gameplay but it was apparent that the world they are creating for this game is going to be truly engrossing. I'm really looking forward to learning more about this game. (trailer)
While not as jam-packed with content as the Microsoft show, Bethesda had a strong presentation
  • Rage 2 - While the surprise of the announcement may have been spoiled by Walmart Canada, there was still a lot to see with Rage 2. The extended gameplay trailer showed a chaotic Mad Max-esque world that featured both FPS gunplay and vehicular combat. It reminded me of Borderlands, so I'm interested. (trailer)
  • Doom Eternal - There was only a brief teaser shown for the sequel to Doom (2016). Since it was one of my top games of 2016, I am very excited to be getting more of the new style of Doom. (trailer)
  • Wolfenstein Youngblood - A new co-op spinoff of Wolfenstein 2 starring BJ Blascowitz's twin daughters. I'm always down for new games with co-op campaigns, so this has potential. (trailer)
  • Fallout 76 - Normally Fallout games look too drab for my taste but this new one's depiction of post-apocalyptic West Virginia looked surprisingly vibrant. That being said, I'm skeptical about the multiplayer focus of this new game gelling well with gameplay experience that players typically expect from Fallout. We'll see. (trailer)
  • Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 - Only the briefest of teasers were shown for these. Starfield is a new IP and Elder Scrolls 6 is the follow-up to Skyrim. Other than acknowledging their existence, little is known about either of these. (trailers: Starfield, Elder Scrolls)
EA & Devolver
I skipped both of these conferences this year. I got the impression from others that both of these were pretty light on content. EA mostly followed up on previously announced games like Anthem and Battlefield 5. I was a fan of the story mode in Battlefield 1, so I'm glad to hear that it will return in Battlefield 5. There were a few small surprises from these shows, however:
  • Unravel 2 - A sequel to the artsy platformer starring a cute little yarn character. (trailer)
  • Sea of Solitude - An indie game that appears to be about depression and loneliness. It had a cool art style but that was all I able to glean from the trailer.
  • Metal Wolf Chaos - Devolver is remastering From Software's over-the-top mecha game. That's about all I know about it. (trailer)

Overall, I felt that both Microsoft and Bethesda had very strong showings. See below for the screenshots I took while watching their conferences.

Also, if you're interested in pre-ordering any of the games that were shown and also supporting this blog, please use this Amazon affiliate link:  Amazon Video Games

Halo Infinite reveal

Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Tunic (aka "Fox Zelda")
Rage 2
Wolfenstein YoungBlood reveal
Fallout 76
Elder Scrolls 6 teaser

Monday, June 4, 2018

E3 & Four Job Fiesta 2018 Coverage

With E3 now than less than a week away, June is a huge month for gaming! On top of the spectacle of the industry’s biggest conference, this month also marks the kickoff of several smaller gaming events including one of my personal favorites, the Four Job Fiesta. I covered both events in this blog last year and that tradition will be continuing this year. Here are some details regarding my coverage for each:

In 2017, I rounded up all my personal highlights for the whole event in a single post. This year I’ll be changing up the format, with a smaller roundup for each day of E3 (June 10 - 12) and then a closing thoughts post at the end of the whole event if time permits. I managed to get both Monday and Tuesday off from work, so I will also be giving some running commentary on my Twitter page as I watch each conference live. If the mood strikes, I may also do something E3-related on Twitch or Discord.

Note: Since EA is doing their conference a day earlier than everyone else, on June 9th, I will probably not be watching it live. If there is anything noteworthy to cover from it, I will roll it into my post for June 10th along with Bethesda and Microsoft.

Four Job Fiesta
One of the highlights of 2017 for me as a gamer was taking part in the Four Job Fiesta. I am very excited to announce that I will be participating once again this year! For the uninitiated, the Four Job Fiesta is a charity event in which participants play through Final Fantasy 5 and raise money for Child’s Play. The Fiesta uses a bot to randomly assign character classes to each player’s party which ups the difficulty and makes for some fascinating improvised strategies. While last year, I streamed all 40 hours of my playthrough on my Twitch channel, this year I will be playing the more mundane parts of the campaign (especially the grinding) offline and saving the bigger game moments for a stream or two per week. I will also be writing periodic blog posts on my Fiesta campaign progress, especially whenever I get assigned a new character class.

The Fiesta officially begins on June 19th, but prior to that, I will be conducting a charity auction similar to last year. The person who donates the most to the Four Job Fiesta will get the privilege of picking a new name for my main character! By the time this post is live, the auction will be open, so please contact me on Twitter if you are interested in placing a bid. The winner of the auction and new name for my character will be announced on a Twitch stream tentatively scheduled for June 14th. This stream will also feature gameplay up until earning the first job in FF5. My first character class will be revealed on my next stream on the first official day of the Fiesta. For my charitable contribution this year, I will donate $2 for each hour it takes to complete the campaign.

If you would like to participate in the Fiesta, donate money, or just find more information, check out the Four Job Fiesta’s homepage: