12 in 12: March and April

I’ve a twofer for this 12 in 12 update.

March

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was my game to play in March. I was excited to try this after seeing the hype for XCOM 2 a few months ago. I mean it’s got an alien invasion, tactical fighting on a grid, and quasi-futuristic weaponry. What isn’t to love? Well it turns out that I was overcome with boredom as I slogged through the first few missions.

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Aliens are landing around the globe and it’s up to your missionary force to help repel the invaders. Unfortunately for your team, the world governments aren’t ponying up much cash for defense and they leave you struggling for resources to build up counter-assaults. Combat is a grid-based system where cover provides benefits to you or your opponents. Hide well and you’ll likely come out pretty good unless the random number generator that decides damage doesn’t quite go your way. “Come on! They had a 3% chance to hit me!”

XCOM is a fan favorite to many, but I am not one of them.

For the rest of March, I spent my time playing a lot of Stardew Valley. It’s a farming sim very much like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory where one clears out a farmstead, raises crops and animals, finds a spouse in town, and wreaks havoc on monsters in nearby caves. You know, typical farmer stuff. I didn’t realize how much I had been missing games like Harvest Moon until I picked this up and now it’s hard for me to put it down!

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April

My April game was Retro City Rampage DX (RCR). I tried it ages back and for whatever reason, it didn’t quite keep me interested. Not remembering what it was, I hopped back in and I was soon reminded why, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The game’s camera is in a top-down view similar to that of the old Grand Theft Auto games, but instead here it’s NES-style graphics. I’d even venture to say that the look may more resemble the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the Nintendo than anything. RCR is chock full of pop-culture and video game references from the 80s and 90s with every single quest, named building, and named character somehow tying back to the past with such things as Back to the Future, The Rocketeer, Super Mario Bros., Contra, and so many more. Those references are where the charm of the game lies because the game itself is quite shallow. Almost every mission is some kind of fetch quest or kill a thing quest and there’s nothing to them. The only kind of entertainment I received was the novelty of what old reference was going to come next.
With that, thankfully RCR is only a few hours long because otherwise, I would have said, cut, it, out, and turned it off while making gestures with my fingers resembling a scissors, pointing, and tossing my thumb behind me. If someone disagrees with me on this, don’t have a cow, man.

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My Troubles with Axiom Verge

axiomvergetitleIn Axiom Verge, players take on the role of Trace as he explores the ruins of Sudra. Hidden across the planet are weapons, power-ups, upgrades, and fragments that tell more of the tale of how life came to be as it is in this world.

What snagged everyone’s attention when Axiom Verge came out was how it was reminiscent of the classic Metroid games of the 80s and 90s. It’s true, Axiom Verge pulls much out of the series it’s inspired by, from the above mentioned weapons, large boss battles, and 2D exploration, and more. What it pulls out it does pretty well and for many, it’s quite an enjoyable game. For me though, it also feels that it didn’t draw from all the things it should have. While I can appreciate what others see in the game, it didn’t do enough to capture the magic of the classic series.

Right there may be the crux of the problem for me. I went into the game expecting to be playing essentially a skinned version of Super Metroid. As I said above, Axiom Verge does well with what it does take, creating alien environments, large enemies, variety of tools and weapons, and backtracking through areas the player has already been in, but yet I wasn’t interested in it.

Mechanically, what annoyed me is that I felt I had to have players guide to find even the most basic of items to get through the game. For nearly the entire playthrough, I had a website that included vague hints and maps on where to go next. This felt awkward this day and age as Axiom Verge is missing even the most rudimentary suggestion system such as, “Go to the zone over there.” Perhaps it works well if playing the game in one sitting, but when tackling the adventure over a few weekends, I would often forget where I was supposed to be going. Maybe I’m wrong here, and this was perfectly emulated from the old days because I did the same thing when playing Super Metroid as a kid, but is that necessary more than 20 years later when game design has grown?

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Along similar lines, much about the classic series was about exploration and trying to find secret items. One does that here as well, but it was frustrating to because the game’s map gives few hints that secret items even exist, let alone hint as to where they are. In Super Metroid, areas with items would have a dot on it. Players wouldn’t know what was there or how to get to it, but they’d know something was there. Nothing of the sort exists in Axiom Verge and if something is missed, you’ll have no idea until you beat the game and it reports the percentage of items collected.

It’s easy to get lost in Axiom Verge, even with the benefit of a map, when attempting to traverse to another zone. There isn’t enough difference between the themes of each zone to identify which you’re in compared to another. Muted blues, purples, and pinks, to muted purples, blues, greys and pinks. While each zone does have its own look, they tend to not be all that different from each other, with the exception of one snow zone. “I’m clearly in Ukkin-Na,” or, “That’s right, E-Kur-Mah looked like that.” On Zebes, it’s clear where one is that from Norfair to Brinstar as one would be more of a grassy area and another an obvious lava area. Each zone had its own easily identifiable color.

Game mechanics aside, my biggest problem is that I had no player agency. I didn’t care about the story one bit. Learning about how Chase, the main character, got here and what he’s going to do about it didn’t do anything for me. Nothing about this world got me interested and I found myself mashing through cutscenes and dialogue pop-ups as quickly as I could.

Super Metroid on the other hand, had very little text but you’d still get the story. The game opens with Samus writing a log entry, describing the events of the previous two games, and then connecting those events with the adventure players are about to partake in. Aside from that, everything in the story is played out without text. For Chase, he has a lot of back and forth with the creatures he’s trying to help over the course of the game, but I felt no connection.
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It may be that Samus has the luxury of being in a game series that is 30 years old and I feel more connected to her. Maybe it’s that she’s a woman, or that the theme of motherhood is interwoven throughout Metroid. I can’t say for certain, but I did not connect with Chase at all and became annoyed that I was interrupted by attempts to flesh out the story.

All of that said, there is a good game underneath all of it. I could feel it and I know others absolutely loved it. When I wasn’t frustrated, I know that even I was enjoying it. It’s unfortunate that, having now played through the whole game, that I feel I may have had a better experience if I had played Speedrunner mode which cuts out all dialogue and allows the player to get right into the game. That would have felt more like the Metroid experience I was expecting.

12 in 12: February

The theme for February was to play a puzzle game. Puzzle games have always been a favorite of mine since starting with Tetris back in the in the NES era. On the school bus during road trips, I was the one people wanted to try to beat while playing linked games of Tetris. Some of those old skills have waned, but I’m still a fan of puzzle games and love to try out new variations on ideas.

Looking through my list of games, it turned out that I didn’t have much for puzzle games that had gone unplayed. I was able to find one though, one that I didn’t know much about other than it was known as one of the worst games on Steam and is often given as a joke gift on the service. This joke gift has the likely unintentional consequence of funding the people who made it and only encourages them. Which game do I speak of?

Bad Rats

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Now that I’ve tried it, to this day the mere mention of the game makes my body shudder in disgust.

Bad Rats *shudder* is a game in which you put together contraptions or combinations of items to kill a cat. This includes such things as squishing the cat with a large weight or placing it into a microwave. …yeah. I was uneasy about the premise going in, but didn’t know the exact scope of it. Being able to turn off the blood and gore didn’t make the game any better for me.

To kill the cat, you’re often given tools such as boards, boxes, or rats that have special purposes such as pushing or hitting. It’s a little reminiscent of Lemmings and probably doesn’t sound so bad. The physics are awful, the controls terrible, and what disgusted me the most? In one of the early stages, you’re given a “bomber” rat, and what does it look like? A stereotypical Arab with a dynamite vest. It’s disgusting.

Avoid this game. Avoid Bad Rats *shudder* at all costs.

 

Now for a few bonus games that weren’t on my list.

Cities: Skylines – Snowfall

The Northern Lights are beautiful.
The Northern Lights are beautiful.

The newest expansion to Cities: Skylines came out that adds weather effects, trams, and fixes a few other bugs. Unfortunately the season everyone wanted to see in their existing cities only happens on a “snow-only” map unless one uses a mod to change things. Trams are freaking awesome though and my citizens love the everloving heck out of them.

Sadly, a few bugs have been added to the game that are more obvious to me than any before, namely one that keeps some of my cims in purgatory. It happens so frequently that I was able to take a video of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpDZ3ydov6Q

That said, I still feel the expansion adds a lot to the game and is well worth the $13US price.

Axiom Verge

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I’m a fan of the classic Metroid series and I had heard that Axiom Verge was the best thing since sliced bread. A homage to the 2D Metroid games, you traverse caverns, caves, and whatnot while collecting weapon upgrades and exploring everything for power-ups and bosses. I’m writing another piece on the game as I write this, but in short, Axiom Verge is pretty damned good and I highly suggest it.

Next month – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

12 in 12: January

For 2016, I took a pledge to complete, or at very least attempt, 12 specific games from my gaming backlog, a pace of at least one title a month. I’m pleased to report that, after January, I already completed three games, one from my list and another two as as bit of a bonus.

Barely squeaking in, I completed Saints Row IV on the the evening of New Year’s Day. I had been playing this game periodically over a few months, using its copious amounts of mini-games to pass time, but rarely took the time to complete story missions unless I needed a break from those games. The story itself was almost entirely a knock off of The Matrix, and that was perfectly fine as it was laced with the Saints Row brand of humor. With references from Harry Potter to They Live, I found myself cackling at so many of the scenarios and events that were unfolding, plus best of all, I finally got to romance Kinzie. At some points there are a number of references to earlier games in the series that I haven’t touched, but I don’t feel like I missed anything in the grand scheme of things. I highly recommend playing this, especially if you’ve played Saints Row the Third. (Steam: Saints Row IV)2015-12-27_00004

The second game I completed was Hammerwatch, a top-down dungeon crawler that, to be completely honest, have no idea why I picked it up. Something must have enticed me. Looking through my emails, I nabbed it back in June of 2015. Choosing the paladin, and my girlfriend choosing a ranger, we spent a few hours over the course of a couple of nights exploring and making our way through scores and scores of monsters, leveling up, getting lost, and finding our way again. The game wasn’t terribly difficult, and we did literally hit walls as we tried to find secrets within the walls of the castle. That said, challenge itself is entirely up to the player as various settings may be tweaked for the gameplay they are seeking. The final battle left us laughing hard as we discovered that we had missed something vitally important to getting the “real” ending. Again, recommended, especially if you can play with one or more other players. (Steam: Hammerwatch)

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Wrapping up January, I finally finished Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon. I started the game last January, getting through the beginning of the game before being distracted by something else shiny.  I liked what I was playing but for whatever reason I stopped. This time I pressed through, and enjoyed my time with it greatly. Everything is neon and cyber in this loving nod to 80s action flicks that doesn’t take itself seriously one bit. Absurd enemies, ridiculous guns, and great one-liners such as, “I’m no hero Doc; I’m just your regular US Army Mark 4 Cyber Commando,” or when accepting an optional mission, “Blah blah blah, kill, blah blah blah.” Yet again, highly recommended. Oh, and don’t worry if you’ve never played another Far Cry game. I’ve never played another and this is entirely standalone. (Steam: Fry Cry 3 Blood Dragon)

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“…cause she’s the thriller…!”

That’s three for three great games played and completed for the month of January. Will I be able to say the same in February? I’ll give you a hint: Bad Rats.

Appearance: Random Trek

This week I was on Random Trek!

This is a show where the host Scott McNulty asks a guest to come on and discuss a random episode of Star Trek, across the five live-action series, and this week’s was DS9’s “The Wire.”

In this episode, Bashir learns about Garak’s past, or thinks he does, while attempting to help him with an implant that is malfunctioning. It’s a pretty good episode and it was a blast to talk about with Scott.

https://www.theincomparable.com/randomtrek/84/index.php

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Briality Check 3 – Patience

An encoding error left me making a late video and a new topic. This week I talk about Shovel Knight and why I still haven’t played it. Also, YouTube insists on making thumbnails at the most obnoxious places in the video. I need to get some cover art and pronto!

 

Appearance: Isometric 88

I’m happy to say that I was asked to be a guest host on Isometric this week! We talked about the launch of the Oculus Rift pre-order, Activision Blizzard buying MLG, and the ethics of buying games on ROMs that Nintendo didn’t release in the States (or fan-made ROMs). We also talked about some near death experiences and I discovered how my deadpan humor doesn’t translate to radio very well. 😉

Have a listen, I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

https://www.relay.fm/isometric/88

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