Thursday, August 28, 2008

The world is flat.

The 2D resurgence continues. I completed Mega Man X tonight. I mentioned previously that I wanted to see if Sigma was as hard to beat as I remembered, and sure enough, he was pretty damned hard. I do think I'm a smarter and more patient player these days, though; I'd say he was probably 80 to 90 percent as hard as I remember. I guess I'm a grizzled veteran with some solid battle experience, and not so green a kid like I once was. War has changed... I'm not a hero, never was. Just an old killer hired to do some wet work.

I also capped off my 'Summer of Arcade(PSN)' with the purchase of Castle Crashers, the new 2D Final Fight/Double Dragon/TMNT/Simpsons/X-Men style beat-em-up from The Behemoth, the guys behind the awesome Alien Hominid (also up on XBLA). You can actually play as the Alien Hominid in the game, along with a ton of other characters, as you fight your way through a stylized fantasy kingdom to rescue a gaggle of princesses. It's pretty good. From what I've seen, every character has the same basic move set: light, heavy, jump, block, and magic attack, but their starting weapons and magic attacks differ, which may or may not be just a cosmetic thing; I'm not sure yet.

You also gain XP as you fight along, and when you level up you get some skill points to allocate over strength/damage, magic/mp, defense/hp, and agility/archery. So far I'm playing as the Alien, level 7, and going for max magic (his trusty blaster) and defense. I've read of a bunch of different bugs and netcode problems, but I haven't seen anything yet except not being able to find a game online to join, which could mean problems or nothing at all. Hopefully they'll get it all sorted, and hopefully some of my friends will also pick up the game!

I'm still playing Diablo II, as well. I'm mired (because it's a swamp, you see) in Act III at the moment, trying to kill all the annoying little Tiki dudes and locate the next waypoint that'll allow me to warp back and forth from town--which is important when you're always playing online and the game is re-randomizing every area each time you log on. Oh well, going through each area repeatedly just means more xp and more loot for me, not to mention an easier time later on in the game.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome to the Swinger's Club

The past few days I've been focusing almost solely on Bionic Commando Re-Armed. It is completely awesome, being faithful to the NES original in all the right ways, and making improvements in all the right places.

The bionic arm swing mechanic takes some getting used to, of course, but you learn to live without a jump button (or you get frustrated and quit playing). The game at times demands an incredible amount of precision in your grappling, but for the most part that stuff is confined to times when you are hunting down optional secrets. However, you can really feel yourself getting more and more skilled at flying through the levels grappling from one place to the next, with your feet only hitting the ground when necessary. This is what made Bionic Commando so unique and awesome 20 years ago, and keeps it so to this day. I hope the 3D 'modern style' Bionic Commando game feels this cool.

I finished the game tonight--on easy mode, because I value my sanity--and managed to find every piece of equipment, and every little cleverly-hidden secret, so far as I can tell. There are a couple of blanks left in the database, but I'm thinking those are unlocked by stuff you encounter on the higher difficulty settings.

There are two distinct areas to BCR's challenge factor, a) the environment itself, and b) the enemies. The stages are more or less identical on easy, though there are some phantom safety platforms provided over pits and spikes from time to time, especially in the last two or three stages. Where it feels like there is a ton of difference is in the enemies, the bosses in particular. Most run-of-the-mill enemies died with just a few shots, and the bosses were all extremely easy. Most of them I beat two or three times, since I was running each stage several times to root out all of the secrets. I get the feeling that on hard or super hard mode, these bosses could be incredibly cheap, whereas the stages aren't going to change all that much.

If you're looking for a good challenge based solely on the terrain (or lack of it) you have to navigate, there are the 60+ challenge rooms you can attempt. I've done about 9 or so, and already they're getting into Braid territory where you'll look at it and think "how in the fuck?" Good stuff. I've already pulled off a few maneuvers you'd think impossible at first glance.

All in all, BCR is great. If you liked Bionic Commando, you'll love what they've done with it here. If you're new to it altogether, try the demo. I can see the uninitiated being thrown for a loop to begin with, but it really is worth it to stick with it until you've got the hang of it, so to speak.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Braid Done

Just finished it, 100%. Even got all the achievements save the one for speed running the game. Some of those puzzles are real head-scratchers. It'll be something that looks totally impossible, but if you think hard enough and mess around with the (few) tools at your disposal, you might get it eventually. Some of them involve thinking about the flow of time and your manipulations of time in ways that you're just not used to. Again, it's kind of like Portal, only thinking in time instead of space.

My wife liked the look and sound of the game. The music is pretty nice. I don't get whatever the 'story' stuff is supposed to be communicating, though. There are these jigsaw puzzle paintings that you assemble as you go through the game collecting pieces, and they look like they have some significance, but if you're not the guy who created the game, you're pretty much left out of whatever it is. So yeah, it's a solid puzzle game, but I don't know what the hell it's about (other than solving puzzles for some abstract reason).

For the matter of value, well, that's a tough one. It's got excellent production values and interesting mechanics, but almost zero replay value. Once you've figured out all the puzzles (which took me maybe 5 hours total), there's not much left to do but theorize what it all means and try speed runs, if you're into that kind of thing. Still, there is something to be said for Braid as an experience. It's one of a kind, and for that I'll begrudgingly concede that there is $15 worth of something here, it's just not $15 worth of pure gameplay. Geometry Wars it is not.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

2D Alive And Well

And to think, a decade or more ago, Sony was actively discouraging 2D games on their new PlayStation hardware. Rumor had it even a masterpiece like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night almost couldn't get by their wrong-headed policies at the time.

These days, I'm up to my ears in 2D. Over the last couple of weeks, the stars have aligned, great old ones hidden in the folds of the cosmos have stirred, and a grand convergence has been set into motion. These are but a few of our new bi-dimensional overlords, those whose calls I personally have heard and obeyed: Geometry Wars 2, Pixel Junk Eden, Bionic Commando Re-armed, Braid, Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero, and Diablo II. Neglected altars of worship, soon to have the dust and cobwebs swept away from their forbidding forms include: Alien Hominid HD, Contra 4, Einhander, Ikaruga, R-Type, New SMB, and a number of Castlevania adventures. This is to say nothing of upcoming titles like Castle Crashers, or non-action games that are by their nature 2D, things like Puzzle Quest: Galactrix or 16-bit style JRPGs, which I have a number of waiting to be attended to.

I've completed Act II in Diablo II now, and that Duriel was a tough fight. He tore through my Shadow Warrior minion while I was trying to lay flame traps around him, and I had no choice but to get up close and personal with him, hand-to-hand MNK style, while my rogue hireling feathered him from afar with fire arrows. I was using a combination of health/mana draining charged strikes and the explosive kick finishing attack. I never died, but I did have to use a couple of town portals to get a quick heal and restock potions and revive the minions. My assassin is up to level 22 or 23 at this point.

I got my first couple of PSN trophies in Pixel Junk Eden. Not much to say about this; it's good to kill a few minutes here and there, before or after watching a movie on the PS3. It's pretty relaxing and chill. Coincidentally, it has a swing mechanic, not unlike Bionic Commando Re-armed, which I picked up this week, also on PSN. I bought it immediately to support the team working on it at Capcom in Osaka (I'm sympathetic fellow gaijin trying to carve out a place in Japan). Those guys have a podcast that is just hilarious. Of course I planned to get it eventually, so I thought I might as well help them get the best release week possible. I haven't spent a lot of time with it yet, but I'm liking what I've seen so far. I was a fan of the NES Bionic Commando back in the day.

Mega Man Zero is insanely difficult, so much so that it made me want to go back and see if Mega Man X was also that hard, and I was just better at this stuff when I was a kid. I also was interested in the X series since the only one I ever played was the first, so I found a copy of the X collection for PS2 on the cheap. I've been playing the first game over the past couple of weeks, and it's definitely not easy. I don't think it's quite as tough as MM Zero, but it's no walk in the park. At this point I've taken down 5 of the 8 initial robot masters. These guys will fuck you up if you go in there without the right weapon. I was only able to beat two of them with the plain old mega buster, but once the pieces start to fall into place and you get the appropriate weapons, they go down easier. I remember the final battle vs Sigma being one of the hardest I had ever fought at the time, and I'm interested to see it now, almost 15 years later.

I wasn't too keen on Braid, with the strange aesthetic and high(er) price point, but with the whole internet going gaga over it, and the creator coming off as an honest and interesting guy in interviews, I decided to check out the demo. Well, I'm glad I did, because I like the game. Before I'd even finished the demo I was damn impressed it. Sometimes you just have to see it first-hand to understand. The art style (particularly the character and enemy designs) aren't my favorites, but otherwise it's beautiful in HD, and the puzzles are just nuts. It's mind-bending in the same way Portal was last year.

I'm still not totally convinced this game needed to be $15 with some of the incredible XBLA games that are only $10, though. It's not that I have a problem with spending $15 on a game like this (Puzzle Quest was $15, too), it's just you'd expect things of like quality to be of like price. Is Braid really worth 1.5 times Geometry Wars 2? I guess the question is why do we expect price to be a function of quality/quantity, when at retail everything from Bioshock to the shittiest movie cash-in costs the same $60?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Addiction--No Laughing Matter

The mind of a compulsive gambler is a very unreal place. Just one more play, it thinks, that'll be the one. Which is how it came to pass that this evening I spent near two hours' time more than I had anticipated with Fable II Pub Games, a clever bit of marketing if ever there was one. I had intended to sit down with it for 5 or 10 minutes just to check it out, since I was able to get it for free, more or less--I just had to pre-order Fable II (which can later be cancelled if I decide I don't want it). But upon jumping into action and noting there were points I was accruing toward 'gambler levels,' I just had to keep going, taking hit after hit, going into Fable II world debt borrowing money for more and more chips to keep playing the slots and that card game (which is pretty cool). The one with the dice I didn't really get to tonight, but probably will when the urge to gamble strikes again.

I was really into the various slots games, betting the max amount of chips each time, racking up more gambling points, more chips, and more game modes, concept art, and achievements unlocked. At this rate, if I ever play Fable II, I should be pretty loaded from the outset.

This thing even ate up enough of my free time tonight that I wasn't able to get in a session of Diablo II on There's always tomorrow... and Bionic Commando Re-armed then, as a matter of fact, a game I've been waiting on for a good while. I have to go with the PSN version here, for the superior d-pad.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Diablo II - Act I Complete

I've focused most of my gaming concentration on Diablo II in the past week, bringing myself presently to a point shortly into the second act. My Assassin is now level 19, and I'm mainly going the charge move/finishing move route along with the passive martial arts skills, though I'm trying out some of the traps, as well. To this point I've found a lot of white, gray, blue, and yellow items, but in a dungeon near the beginning of Act II's desert I found a green item, which I take it is part of a set. It's the belt, and it's called Frost something or other. I wonder if it's rare... because I'm playing an online game (even though I always play solo), I could join someone else's game to trade stuff, but I haven't bothered trying anything like that yet. Being only 20% into the games easiest mode, I'm sure I don't have anything special.

Apart from Diablo, the only thing I've been playing to speak of is Geometry Wars 2. I'm second among my friends list, although I'm not sure how the score is counted. It says I have 80million something points, while the guy ahead of me has 82million something, but if you go into the actual game and look at the individual leaderboards, his scores are way higher than mine all around. So, it's not just a simple sum of all 6 scores from all 6 modes; there's got to be some other mechanism at work here. My best mode is still Pacifism, where I've hit 37 mil, and I still can't finish Sequence. Awesome game.

Friday, August 1, 2008

July Indulgences

I swear, I only bought these to check out and then, with all probability, sell.  The material ones, I mean.  But not Diablo.  Anyway, here they are:

 Geometry Wars 2.... all I thought impossible in a sequel, done with panache.

I love the Killzone art.  Those Helghast just look awesome.  I hope the game/series is good.  I also hope ZOE 2 is all it's cracked up to be, but it'll fetch a high price online either way.  Mega Man Zero is tough! Great 2D action, though.

The Diablo Battle Chest, or, my next FFXI-sized addiction waiting to happen.  This is what I've been playing the most of this week.  I've got a level 7 Assassin on the US West realm of Bnet, and I always name my game Covenant, password kujata (keeping it simple if anyone wants to jump in!)