Sunday, 1 January 2017

Twenty Seventeen

As ever, Christmas has been kind to me. Though I must sound like a broken record by now, I am eternally grateful to my family, old and new, for giving me such welcome gifts.

I don't want to write a list of presents, but I will say there were a few games I'll be reporting on in this new year. There were also a bunch of Japanese import games I ordered a few weeks ago to be delivered to my in-laws' house for simplicity.

My resolutions from last year lay in tatters; such things have never really motivated me. I shall simply state that I will put more time toward learning Japanese (so I can play my imports comfortably) and creating a video game this year.

I did manage to beat a game on the plane to America, so I guess I'll be talking about that soon, though it is not one of my "picked by other people" series.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

#14: Dynasty Warriors 5

After a drought, a deluge!

Taking pity on me, Emily chose Dynasty Warriors 5 as the next game for me to beat. Accordingly, I've already played through one character's story and started another for good measure.

DW5 is somewhere of a middle ground between the new, extremely easy titles and the ridiculously difficult ones like DW3. This is mainly the result of more rapid weapon acquisition and missile weapons not knocking you over. Having a bodyguard around with which to activate Double Musou is also very useful. I think this is also the last in the series to have the bow as an alternate weapon?

Killing ludicrous hordes of Chinese guys is as fun as ever. They're perhaps a little more aggressive than before, which means you usually have to at least consider the possibility that you'll get knocked out of combos; the counterattack move is often a sure bet. As for officers, their AI seems the same, though for some reason, weapon clashes seem to happen more frequently. However, everyone still says "Cow Cow".

These minor changes between iteration really make me want to put together some kind of document describing exactly how the Musou series have progressed. I spy another Google spreadsheet or two in my future.

In other news, I've started work on a fairly simple roguelike game written in Game Maker Studio. It's quite a new experience, though it bears some similarity to The Games Factory, which I used decades ago. I have other game projects, but it has been difficult to work up enthusiasm for them because there is so much left to do. Hopefully, learning a new environment/language will give me the impetus to finish a game for once.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

#13: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

I'm very sorry that I haven't posted any updates recently! Life has been hectic and great and awful, and also I'm bad at writing blog posts regularly.

About a month ago, TrueAchievements started the second run of their Ultimate Head to Head contest, an event which pits pairs of gamers against each other in a race to get as many achievements from a list neither of them have. As soon as I saw it mentioned, I joined, then promptly forgot to do anything about it. When the contest started, I felt a complete idiot, as I realised it had picked about half of the list from the Xbox One games I couldn't play, but owned thanks to Games With Gold. There was a way to fix this before the contest began.

In the first week, my opponent was apologetic but destroyed me. Thankfully, the first four rounds were not knockout style, and it was my birthday coming up, so my father-in-law felt pity on me and sent an Xbox One my way! From then on, I could complete properly, which was amazing up until I lost my first knockout round. Oh well. Next year.

Anyway, this significant lead up explains why the next of my Games Beaten in 2016 is Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments. An adventure game, it follows six cases more-or-less inspired by the original Doyle stories.

From the beginning, it is clear that the developers have a great deal of respect for the source material. The environments feel real; every room and outside area is strewn with beautiful stuff. Dialogue is of the time, characters are reasonable, progression is natural. The game is fully voice acted, and while it is sometimes a little repetitive, the interactions between Holmes and Watson are genuinely funny and made me chuckle a few times. In short, it's everything I miss when I'm playing Ace Attorney. Things make sense in this game.

Unfortunately, it's also a little bit too easy. There are frequent mini-games which test your reflexes or accuracy, but they are skippable with no other penalty than potentially missing out on some achievements. You don't have to make any intelligent choices in dialogue. The game's deduction system, which is otherwise an excellent way to visualise what is supposedly happening in Sherlock's head, never requires you to actually know what you're talking about. An interesting twist is that the game does allow you to make the wrong conclusion for each case. Some of these are more believable than others, but the common thread is that you can reach them without finding all the pertinent clues.

Overall, I found it a pleasant experience, but not a mind-blowing one. I'd love to see a game which uses a similar engine but with more in-depth dialogue and more ways to be 'wrong'. Definitely worth the price of free which I got it for.

You might be wondering why this post isn't about Nocturne or Motocross Madness. Well, for some reason the latter has been removed from the online store, so I can't play it. I'll ask Emily to roll me another game. As for Nocturne, uh... maybe one day.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

#12: Astonishia Story

Sometimes, when I visit used game shops, I like to pick stuff off the shelves simply because I've never heard of it. It doesn't hurt if they only cost a few pounds. This game is one of those.

Astonishia Story for the PSP is actually a remake of some 90s Korean PC RPG. Amusingly, the title screen specifically bills it as an "easy RPG for beginners". If you were expecting an experience akin to Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, you might be slightly confused. This game has a tactical battle system like Fire Emblem. It's closer to Shining Force in execution, though, as all the characters will get their turn according to their speed, rather than each side taking turns. There's also an elemental system which I honestly could not understand the effects of, despite the manual explaining it.

So, the story starts off in a rather standard manner. You're a knight, you're protecting a convoy, it gets attacked, everyone except you dies, etc. The entire rest of the game is spent trying to get this for-some-reason-important staff back from the guys who stole it. One of the last things you do in this game is pick it up and leave. In-between these two events, you are drawn into a series of vaguely-related side-quests with a cast of almost two-dimensional characters. Instead of going the route where you slowly build up your strength and get to know how well you can proceed through experience, Astonishia Story instead constantly throws people at you then takes them away a dungeon or two later.

Infuriatingly, the developers knew they were making a thoroughly average game and decided to try and spice it up with (ugh) humour. This takes many forms, though usually the slapstick kind. At one point some shady character offers you a hacked item, and if you accept, some guy appears and punishes you for not playing the game properly. Between this ill-fated attempt to make me smile and the consistently dreadful translation, it doesn't win many points on this front.

The graphics are generally not bad, late-SNES/early-PS1 in appearance. There are a few scripted fight sequences which are done with care. The music is pretty bad.

Now, about that "easy RPG" thing. While it's true that the game is not particularly complicated, it has a difficulty curve like a roller-coaster. Partially this was because of my usual unease about using consumable items, but the main problem is spell-casting enemies. On any given turn, they could walk up to you and smack you on the head with a stick for five damage, or cast any number of bizarrely spelt/named spells and hit everybody for three hundred. It's maddening! The last boss gauntlet is the pinnacle of this, which necessitated many resets. There were also a number of boss fights which require whittling down over the course of perhaps half an hour.

As you might be able to tell, I don't think it's a very good game. Thankfully, the battle system is fine and the menus are nice and responsive, so it goes on my "speedrun this when I'm retired and I have no cares or worries" pile.

My next two games to beat are Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (might take me a while) and Motocross Madness (haha avatar racing game). Woo!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

#11: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All

So, Phoenix Wright. The series sticks out in my mind as having a ravenous fanbase, amusing in-universe adverts and being one of the first things to run correctly on DS emulators. It also receives a lot of credit for good localisation; the script is huge, but puns and other such frivolities are painstakingly recreated.

Emily owns all three of the WiiWare ports, which are generally the same as the DS versions except for a few annoying realities introduced by only having one screen. I've previously played the first game, which has no subtitle, and over the last few weeks I've been playing the second entry, Justice for All.

If you want to skip a lot of invective, here's the brief: "It's not my kind of game".

Phoenix himself is consistently presented as the standard anime protagonist, i.e. dumb but well-meaning. This is despite him being a lawyer. At various times through the narrative, he reveals how little he knows about legal proceedings, ignorance of self-incrimination laws for example, preferring to win his trials by arguing over endless minutiae and blindly guessing. However comedic the setting is supposed to be, this just rubs me the wrong way; I'm not fond of playing as idiots, no matter how righteous they are. His saving grace is in the depth of his relationships with others, though he is consistently used by those around him. I might enjoy seeing him become more bitter over time because of this.

The other characters are an eclectic mix. From memory, here are some of them:
  • A ventriloquist who doesn't talk without his puppet, who has an eye-rollingly acerbic personality.
  • A paranormal researcher who, like, is clueless and like, stops talking mid-sentence, like, you know?
  • An old lady who crushes on every single handsome member of the cast, changing loyalties at the drop of a hat.
  • A prosecutor who whips people all the fucking time for no reason why the hell are they not arrested immediately
Again, I know it's the nature of the series to be outrageous. My problem with this is that when everything is outrageous, nothing is outrageous anymore. There's no sensible baseline which allows you to approach the game with a modicum of logic. Any stupid thing could happen at any time, and because magic is actually real in this universe, you can never know if something is possible or not. One of the cases has a stage magician who flies, and the game doesn't even consider his ability to fly an open question. He just can't, because magic doesn't exist. Except for the spirit channelling stuff which happens constantly.

For those who don't know, each case is split roughly in half between investigation and courtroom. Investigation is largely quite interesting, gradually unfolding the truth from witness statements and searching rooms for evidence. It can be slightly annoying when the game has a non-obvious flag to set to continue with the story, but generally this part is quite good. It reminds me of point and click adventure games, mostly.

In the courtroom, you are directly competing against the prosecutor to prove your arguments. This appeals to me the most; I think this is an incredibly rich area for games to explore. It's why it makes me so sad/angry that Ace Attorney doesn't really pull it off to my satisfaction.

Trials proceed in a circular fashion with testimonies punctuated by small factual discussions. In each case, witnesses have been "prepared" by the prosecution to be very unhelpful. Your task is to unfold their lies and find out the truth. This isn't too bad; mostly, the arguments make sense and are easy to follow if you paid attention during the investigation. Sometimes they hinge on a single phrase or even a word made by some random person, and those can be hard to remember. The game does go 'ding!' occasionally when you learn something important, but there are enough non-ding! parts with useful content that this isn't the best guide.

Where the game completely goes off the deep end is with the last case. The leaps of logic and grasping at straws here are legendary; the game lampshades this quite heavily, which doesn't exactly endear me to it. At one point Phoenix completely makes up his argument, with no prior hints at all, and is then accepted as gospel thereon. While in the context of this particular case it makes some sense, it still makes me grit my teeth that I have do such a bad job in order to win. Later on you are forced to do the exact thing the game tells you not to do, pressing a witness so far past rationality that everyone thinks you are insane. I began to get very frustrated at this point. Breaking the rules is certainly good to explore, though generally when you do it in a courtroom you commit perjury or something.

"Perjury" would be a good word for this series to learn, actually. Along with "mistrial".

I'm sure the ending was meant to be heartwarming and so on, but I was so tired and fed up of being mistreated by the narrative that I mostly just felt relief. This is generally observed to be a black mark against a game. There's a lot of philosophising about "what it means to be a lawyer" during the latter half which shows some promise, but essentially everything is resolved ham-handedly without you needing to make any serious decision either way.

I can see why people love Ace Attorney. Those reasons are kind of why I don't love it. I know at some point I'll play the rest, but I just don't know how to enjoy this stuff. I wish it were just a bit more sober.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016


It's an idea which has gained and lost popularity over the years, but it's still around. However, it has changed form slightly.

Never Alone is the first game I'll talk about. On a purely game-centric level, it is simple, easy, somewhat monochromatic co-op platformer. Where the game comes into its own is the rich heritage of the Inuktitut people. This provides the story of the game and a series of videos with real Inuk, offering a shallow but intriguing view into a very alien culture. The game is also narrated in Inuk language, providing its real title: Kisima Inŋitchuŋa.

I'm glad to see this kind of thing among the endless retro-inspired trendy platformers. However, the game does not control well, resulting in a fair bit of frustration despite the low difficulty and short length. Worth a try if you're patient enough to watch the videos.

Next up is Valiant Hearts: The Great War. As the title suggests, it is set in World War I, and switches back and forth between various viewpoints. It is eager to point out the similarities in each side, drawing parallels in the hatred and stupidity of officers everywhere. Like Never Alone, it is a simple puzzle/platformer, but it also has a few minigames to break it up a little. Despite the unavoidably grim tone imparted by the setting, it still manages to pull off some moments of levity.

While the two games share common goals and have some similar features, I much prefer Valiant Hearts for its poignancy and snappy art style. Also of note is its developer, Ubisoft, who are popularly seen as corporate and unfeeling; it's good to see that they can still produce compelling games.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

#10: Maximo

Yes, I finally beat this thing.

Maximo is a 3D platformer in the same franchise as Ghosts 'n Goblins. Here's a list of things it keeps from that venerable series.
  • Your armour explodes as you take damage (though you do have more health)
  • You wear boxers with hearts on (or other patterns, not sure they do anything...)
  • It's very easy to jump off platforms into lava/water/etc.
  • It's hard
It's not the hardest game I've played, but it wasn't satisfying enough for its level of difficulty. The camera was often a major culprit, forcing me to make leaps of faith when it got stuck behind something. Also, combat is rather finicky, with a long lag time after several swing animations. Of course, this is part of the intended difficulty; this isn't a mash-happy action RPG, oh no, you have to place your sword with accuracy.

The game proceeds through five worlds, in typical era-fashion. Graveyard, Swamp, Snow, Hell, Castle. Though the fourth is literally in hell, the third one made me feel like I was. At the very least, Maximo can actually affect his velocity mid-air, mainly through the use of the double jump, but sliding floor is never fun. Most of my deaths were in the Snow and Hell areas. Oh, and about death...

You have a normal lives system, but there are also these special blocks you can destroy which release fairies. When you get 50 fairies, you lose them and gain a special coin. What's this coin for? When you run out of lives, you have to pay Death to revive you, even though you are explicitly on a mission for him. At first, you pay one coin, but if you keep running out of lives, the price goes up. That's not annoying at all. By the time I had finished (I continued twice in the last world, because there are no save points), my revival price was four coins.

Where the game becomes interesting is in its power up system. Chests and enemies randomly drop from a pool of abilities; quite a variety here, like letting you throw your shield, or shoot your sword with power. You can pick up a lot of these at once... I think I managed 12 at one point. You have several 'lock points' on your ability bar, and are free to swap the order of abilities around. When you die (just a life, not a continue), you lose all the non-locked abilities. You start with three, and gain one per world beaten. This wouldn't be so bad, but I was going for an extra challenge where you keep four essentially useless abilities through the game, so I never did get any use out of those extra slots.

The music is just remixes of that one theme from Ghosts 'n Goblins. You know the one.

Each world is topped off with a boss encounter (of course), which are all simple pattern-based things with one weak point. Work it out and they become trivial. After the fight, you get to choose between a save, suit of armour or the useless ability I mentioned before. Yes, you can't save freely; you have to pay 100 gold coins at specific points in the world hubs.

Final thoughts? OK. Not great. Frustrating, but only people who like frustration are going to buy it. Not sad it's over. Not sad I spent £2 on it.