Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Little Nightmares Review

 The third and final game in my #HorrorGameOct lineup is one that I played through with my wife rather than on Twitch. Little Nightmares is a horror puzzle platformer that was originally released on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in April 2017. The 2018 Switch version that my wife and I played featured the main campaign, "Six's Story", as well as the DLC campaign, "The Kid's Story".

Each of the two campaigns follows a different child's path through The Maw, a giant cruise ship full of grotesque semi-human cannibalistic creatures, as the kids attempt to escape before they wind up as entrees in the buffet. This unique premise and the twisted and unsettling imagery that come with it are the game's biggest strength. The creatures pursuing the young heroes are creatively designed and also deeply disturbing to look at. The Maw features dark industrial areas in the underbelly of the ship as well the passenger accommodations with banquet halls and giant furnishings. It all comes together in an appropriately nightmarish visual package that feels like a fusion of the darkest parts of Nightmare Before Christmas and Spirited Away.

While the premise and sense of style are very distinct, the story that Little Nightmares tells is minimalist. Outside of the game's conclusion, there are no cut scenes, dialog, or text within the game. I was initially disappointed by this since the game's trailer make it look like a narrative-driven game, but after a while I adjusted to the subtle and purely visual form of story telling the game was using. What's there is mysterious but very bare bones.

The gameplay of Little Nightmares is very simple. There's no combat; all enemy encounters are resolved by either speed or stealth. In the quiet moments, there are basic environmental puzzles to solve and light platforming. Most of this works out reasonably well, but there were a couple of persistent sources of frustration throughout. Despite the character's limited capabilities, the controls were cumbersome. The main issue was that the right trigger needs to be held any time the character is carrying an object, climbing ladders, or pulling themself up a ledge. After an hour or so of play, my right index finger would get sore since I had to be holding down the trigger most of the time. The other issue is that the camera has very limited movement, which meant that I had several occasions where I would miss a jump and fall to my death due to bad camera angles throwing off my depth perception.

Control and camera hangups aside, we encountered a couple of technical issues while playing Little Nightmares on Nintendo Switch. The most glaring of which is likely a Switch-specific problem: painfully long load times. The stealth and platforming sections of the game often involved some trial and error, with mistakes leading to instant death. These deaths were punished by having to wait up to a full minute for the game to reload the last checkpoint. This was very discouraging during the tougher parts of the campaign. The other technical issue was more general; glitches in the game's physics and collision would sometimes cause the player character or enemies to get snagged on corners or doorways. On a few occasions this would happen at an inopportune moment, and then we were staring at a loading screen once again.

For my wife and I, we had enough fun and spooky moments with Little Nightmares that we willing to tolerate the technical and design issues that occasionally got in the way. Little Nightmares is unique enough from an artistic standpoint to be worthwhile for fans of the weird and creepy but is probably not mechanically sound enough to please those who come to it purely for platforming or stealth gameplay.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐

Completion Time: About 8 hours (both campaigns combined)

Note: This review is specific to the Nintendo Switch version of the game. It’s possible that the PC game addresses some of the issues I had with this game by having faster load times and reconfigurable controls.

If you're curious about the #HorrorGameOct event, be sure to check out this blog post on Chic Pixel.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Bloodstained Curse of the Moon Review

After finishing off Momodora last week, I decided to keep the #HorrorGameOct train rolling and jump straight into another Castlevania-inspired 2D platformer, Bloodstained Curse of the Moon. Since this is short game, I finished it off in a single streaming session. Both the stream and the game itself were a total blast! Now that I've laid the demon king to rest, here's my review:

Bloodstained Curse of the Moon is an NES-style 2D platformer from developer Inti Creates. This game was released earlier this year as a prequel to the upcoming Bloodstained Ritual of the Night. Both of these titles come from former Castlevania director, Koji Igarashi, with Curse of the Moon being based on the NES Castlevania titles, and Ritual of the Night being based on the PS1 and Gameboy Advance entries of the series. Wearing its inspiration on its sleeve, Curse of the Moon, features monster-slaying heroes progressing through spooky linear environments such as haunted forests and vampires’ castles.

  • At first glance, Curse of the Moon looks like an NES game, but it features graphical effects than an 8-bit system could never pull off. The color pallet is much broader and backgrounds feature multiple layers of parallax scrolling to give the 2D stages the appearance of depth. Enemy sprites are larger, more detailed, and far more plentiful, than the NES would have been able to render. It makes for a beautiful retro-inspired presentation.
  • Unlike the original Castlevania games, Curse of the Moon features a set of four playable characters than can be swapped in and out on the fly. Each character has unique abilities that can be used for both traversal and combat. Switching to the appropriate character at the right time can provide access to shortcuts through levels and have a substantial effect on the difficulty of boss battles.
  • Curse of the Moon’s difficulty is much more forgiving than the NES Castlevania titles. There are options for Casual and Normal difficulty, with the former choice granting infinite continues and eliminating knock-back (i.e. your character won’t get pushed off a platform if he gets grazed by an enemy). Also, since each of the four player characters has their own HP bar, cycling through them allows you to take a lot more damage before seeing the Game Over screen.
  • This game has some really cool boss designs. The large detailed sprite make them visually distinct and most of them employ a unique mechanic during their battles. Rather than just memorizing patterns, dodging, and attacking, these fights often involve making use of platforming skills and knowing when to switch to the right character.
  • The level designs have some features that stand out from this game's 8-bit inspirations. I appreciated the way that utilizing each characters' special skills could significantly change the route the player takes through a level. I was also impressed with some of the visual set pieces in this game's levels such as the train barreling through the forest in the first stage.
  • While it might not have the iconic tracks like "Vampire Killer" or "Bloody Tears", Curse of the Moon's soundtrack manages to come pretty close to reaching the high bar set by its source of inspiration. Veteran Castlevania composer, Michiru Yamane, hasn't lost her touch! I'm looking forward to listening to her pieces for this game again as well as any orchestral or heavy metal covers that fans arrange.

  • Curse of the Moon is generally less difficult and frustrating than NES platformers, a plus in my book. However, the last stage or two represent a pretty big difficulty spike. Several areas feature instant-kill traps that require some trial and error to traverse. I ended up losing several lives in the last stage due to entering a room with a trap that would activate much faster than I could react if I wasn't already prepared for it. This felt a little cheap.
  • Like the original Castlevania, Curse of the Moon can easily be beaten in a single sitting. While I personally don't consider this to be a negative, as I felt the length was appropriate to the type of game it is, I'm listing this as a con since some players might not feel that a 2-hour game is worth $10.
As someone who has been a fan of the Castlevania series for a long time, I came to this game with a discerning eye and sense of cautious optimism. I was thrilled by the result! Bloodstained Curse of the Moon is an incredibly effective spiritual successor to Konami's horror platformer series that delighted an old-school fan like me and will probably also offer a fun, but manageable, challenge to newcomers as well.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes (Regular ending, Casual difficulty)

If you're curious about the #HorrorGameOct event, be sure to check out this blog post on Chic Pixel.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight Review

 As I had announced last week, I played through Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight on Twitch as part of my #HorrorGameOct streaming series. Since it was a relatively short game, I ended up finishing it in two streaming sessions! Here’s my review of the game, now that I can put ot in the “completed” page of my backlog.

Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight is an indie Metroidvania game that was originally released on PC in 2016. The game follows a priestess tasked with snuffing out the source of a curse that has caused the kingdom to be plagued by witches, skeletons, ghosts, and other Halloween-appropriate baddies. Though Reverie Under the Moonlight is the fourth installment of the Momodora series, it represents the point at which the series gained mainstream recognition and is thus my first exposure to the series.

  • Momodora features gorgeous pixel art and animations. The player character in particular has detailed animations while in action as well as a variety of charming idle animations.
  • For a colorful retro-style game, it pulls off a creepy atmosphere quite well. The spooky environment is enhanced by NPCs that express fear, anxiety, or malice even with relatively limited dialog.
  • The music is fairly low key but tends to kick in at the right times to give a sense of dread.
  • The protagonist’s mix of close and ranged attacks is fun to use. The game script describes the heroine’s weapon as a “magic maple leaf” but wielding it feels more like pillow case with a brick in it, giving landing a combo strike a satisfying sense of weight. I also enjoyed using the bow to juggle enemies and shoot down their projectiles.
  • Level designs in Momodora are not revolutionary for a Metroidvania, but offer enough variety and secrets to uncover to make filling in the map feel worthwhile.
  • Most games of this type offer some sort of traversal enhancement partway though (traditionally something like a grappling hook or jet pack). In this game you can transform into a cat!

  • The game’s difficulty didn’t scale consistently, especially when it came to boss battles. Some of these battles required full use of my action platforming skills, but there were also bosses where I could get away with just crouching in the corner and spamming arrows.  
  • Since the heroine’s strikes carry a lot of weight, positioning her during attacks felt a little imprecise, leading to a handful of accidental deaths during the first half of the game (I eventually learned to compensate).
  • The game has two endings. The bad ending is very unsatisfying. Getting the good ending requires following an obtuse process that I wouldn’t have been to figure out without consulting a guide. While the good ending is an improvement, it still felt anticlimactic compared to the buildup from the game’s atmosphere and NPC dialog.

While Momodora Reverie Under the Moonlight doesn't do much to deviate from the formula established by similar games that came before it, I enjoyed my time with it quite a bit thanks to its strong mechanics and presentation. It’s generally a solid-by-the-numbers Metroidvania that'll please fans of the genre but won’t win over holdouts.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃🎃
Completion Time: 6 hours (98% map completion)

Disclaimer: As of this week, Tales from the Backlog is no longer participating in the Amazon Affiliates program. I'll be sure to include a new disclaimer if I enter into a new advertising/sponsorship arrangement in the future. Any Amazon links in older posts will still work for shopping purposes but no longer serve as a revenue source for this blog.



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Dragalia Lost Impressions


While I’m not the biggest mobile gamer, whenever there’s the opportunity to play something published by Nintendo (legally) on my phone, I’m sure to give it a shot. Their newest mobile title, Dragalia Lost, is an interesting one in that it’s not adapted from an existing Nintendo franchise, but is a new IP they created in collaboration with CyGames Studios (of GranBlue Fantasy and Rage of Bahamut fame). So far, I’ve been able to put a few hours into the game, which feels like just scratching the surface, but that's been enough for me to put together some early impressions.

Dragalia Lost is a free-to-play fantasy action RPG. The campaign consists of alternating visual novel-style story scenes and short overhead dungeon sequences in which the player fights a few enemies, gathers some treasure, and then fights a boss (like a very simplified version of Zelda or Ys). The player controls a party of four characters, most of which have the ability to transform into powerful dragons for a brief period of time. Dragalia Lost makes its money via microtransactions, primarily in the form of randomly drawn items, characters, and dragons (i.e. a “gachapon” or “loot crate” mechanic).

  • This game has very high production values for a mobile game. The graphics and character designs look very nice, many of the cut scenes are fully-voiced, the musical score includes several vocal tracks, and there are some TV-quality animated scenes sprinkled throughout.  The overall presentation is about on part with a late 3DS game.
  • In other mobile games I’ve played, including Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem Heroes, the story has felt like something cobbled together to justify the action and spur the player to put money into the gacha system. Draglia Lost’s story and characters feel richer, more like what I would expect from a more traditional video game. The depth of the lore, from what I’ve seen so far, almost feels wasted on a free mobile title.
  • I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the writing in the dialog sequences. I particularly like Notte, the protagonist’s fairly companion. Her humorous lines put her way ahead of previous similar characters like Navi in Ocarina of Time.
  • The voice acting for the main characters is solid, though some of the supporting characters sound a little off. Overall, it’s about on par with dubbed anime.
  • Dragalia Lost has systems on top of systems and I’m still discovering more after several hours of gameplay. Every character can be modified in several ways, each piece of equipment can be upgraded, the party’s composition can be changed around, and you can feed the dragons to raise their stats! I find myself too impatient to tinker with all this and instead just trust the “Optimize” button to do its job.
  • Touch screen controls aren’t ideal for an action RPG, but the implementation in this game gets the job done. I’m generally able to move, attack, and dodge with a reliable degree of accuracy. Some of the special moves that require specific holding and swiping gestures feel a little clumsy,  however.
  • In what I’ve played up until this point, using the gacha system or other microtransactions haven’t been essential. With the free stuff I collect by playing the game, I’ve been able to get the characters and items I’ve need and avoid running out of stamina. The impetus for microtransations may ramp up a bit in the future, but I’m thinking it will be quite some time before I’ll feel like the game is truly pushing me to spend money.
  • Dragalia Lost features some really catchy music. There’s a couple of Japanese vocal tracks that I would love to listen to outside of the game.
  • The dungeon level designs are pretty bland. Each one is essentially comprised of the same thing: about three kill rooms with weaker enemies, a treasure chest that is slightly off the main path, and then a boss battle. Since these sections are pretty short (less than five minutes), I can understand why they keep it simple.
  • The story-to-gameplay ratio seems pretty high for a mobile game. I would think that for a mobile game the idea is to get in, bash some enemies, and get out. Instead I've had many sessions with this game that are primarily watching cut scenes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the cut scenes are enjoyable, it's just not what I would expect from a game on my phone.
  • Dragalia Lost does something that a lot of mobile games do that drives me crazy. The game requires installation of large mandatory patches on a regular basis. The game doesn't auto update, so if it's been a few days since you've played, be prepared to spend a large chunk of your gaming session staring at a download progress bar. This can be especially problematic for those on a limited data plan. (I had this same issue with Fire Emblem Heroes and UtaPri)
Despite some issues that are prevalent in free-to-play mobile games in general, Dragalia Lost has really impressed me. Its combination of fun characters, bopping sound track, and decent gameplay will mean that it'll probably be my go-to phone time waster (other than Twitter) for at least the next few weeks. Also, knowing that many other Cygames properties have been adapted into other media, primarily anime, I'm curious to see what fruit their partnership with Nintendo may bare in the future.

Since this post is about a free game, there's nothing to topical to advertise. However, if you'd like to pick up a new game while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this affiliate link: Amazon Video Games

Sunday, October 7, 2018

#HorrorGameOct Streaming Series

Final Fantasy 5, Ys, Beyond Oasis, and Battle Chef Brigade... I've been on a long streak of RPGs on my Twitch stream and it's time to change things up. Thus, for the rest of the month of October, I'll be switching to one of my other favorite genres: 2D platformers! On top of that, this month is #HorrorGameOct, so I'll be focusing on platformers with a spooky Halloween theme. (If you'd like to know more about #HorrorGameOct, check out this post on the Chic Pixel blog).

The first game in the line-up will be Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, a Metroidvania game set in a world of monsters, witches, and curses. This game has been on my radar for a while for its great pixel art, so I'm really looking forward to digging into it. If I manage to finish Momodora before the month is over, the next game in the lineup will likely be Bloodstained Curse of the Moon, a spiritual successor to the 8-bit Castlevania games.

Streams will be on my Twitch channel on Tuesday nights from 8 - 11 PM ET. I hope you'll look forward to joining me for some spooky platforming fun!

 If you'd like to pick up a spooky game of your own while also supporting this blog, you can do so via this affiliate link: Amazon Video Games