Thursday, March 19, 2015

#52GameChallenge - LittleBigPlanet 3

Every now and again a game comes along that comes out of nowhere, challenges the big boys on the block, knocks a few heads around, and walks away victorious with trophy in hand. Not too long ago that game was LittleBigPlanet for the PS3. When it released in 2008, it surprised a lot of people with its fun yet challenging platforming, and customization. Despite the cute look of the game (who can forget the iconic SackBoy, pseudo-mascot for the PS3 for some people), LittleBigPlanet offered gamers the ability to not only decorate their characters with a variety of skins (even some from other popular franchises), but to also create levels for the online community to enjoy and challenge themselves.

I got my first taste of the series with a free copy of LittleBigPlanet 2 I received and it did not disappoint. Not only was I sucked in by the platforming and the adorable childhood real-world-imagination-inspired look of the game, but my fiancée was so taken by the costumes and cuteness that it instantly became a couple’s game for us to enjoy together. We had so much fun that I knew I’d have to pick up LittleBigPlanet 3 when it came up (not like my fiancée would give me a choice in the matter). Surely the folks over at Sony and Sumo Digital wouldn’t disappoint.

Unfortunately for us, not only did LittleBigPlanet 3 disappoint; it was flat out awful. I’m sorry to those of you who are willing to look past a game’s many faults to find the “silver lining”, but I’m not going to be an apologist for a game that’s so buggy that it can make the game frustrating on a level that borders unplayable. At first you don’t notice the issues as much, because they happen infrequently; however, the more you play, the more you notice things, like your SackPerson falling through a floor and getting stuck, or losing control over your SackPerson for a few seconds as you watch them helplessly careen into DOOM because you can’t stop them from running left.

The most common thing you'll see the entire game.

Those are just two examples of many times I found myself wondering how such a great franchise could have a game so obviously flawed and in need of further testing released to the public. Even my fiancée, who is a saint compared to me and my levels of patience, found the game’s frequent bugs so upsetting that she asked if we could stop playing for the night. It just got to the point that it wasn’t even worth playing anymore, and that’s unacceptable.

However, bugs, glitches, and straight-up broken-ness aren’t the only issues that cause LittleBigPlanet 3 to suffer. The most glaring was the time it took to load anything in the game. Loading screen times were long – I’m talking 1990’s-PS1-RPG-with-multiple-discs long. When you’re 2 systems and 10 years removed from those kinds of issues yet suffer from them, you’re doing something wrong. It was so bad that there was a running joke between me and my fiancée – when a loading screen came up we’d ask one another to do something like go change the oil in the car or make dinner while we waited. It was funny at first, but eventually the jokes and the loading times got old and we just stopped caring.

Another issue, albeit a minor one, with LittleBigPlanet 3 was the presentation of the game. Mainly the story and characters were dull and uninspired. You’re transported to a new planet in the universe, Bunkum, by an unskilled creator named Newton. He asks your help to defeat an evil witch who is bent on freeing three evil spirits who will steal all creativity and imagination from the world forever. When you confront the witch, there are a few twists, things go wrong, and the spirits are released. You’re now tasked with freeing three legendary heroes to help you stop the evil spirits once and for all. It’s a tale so simple that a child could’ve written it, which might be the point, but with a weak story, I’m going to need a little more to grab hold of me.

Brave warriors of fabric, assemble!

While the story of LittleBigPlanet 2 wasn’t anything to write home about either, the characters and voice-acting (especially Robbie Stevens as Larry Da Vinci) were brilliant enough to make me forget about the simplicity of the plot and enjoy the experience. There was no such brilliance to distract me from the shortcomings of LittleBigPlanet3, as the characters were barely introduced, had little to no backstory, and overall felt forced upon the player for no other reason than to move the story along. Couple that with voice-acting that was over-the-top annoying (e.g. – dialogue that dragged on so much that I found a better use for my time in the form of a bathroom break) and you can see why it was hard not to focus on the frustrating bugs in the game.

Like any game (well, almost any game), LittleBigPlanet 3 does have some redeeming qualities. The introduction to three new playable characters adds some welcome variety to the platforming elements of the game. One character (and my personal favorite), OddSock, is a speedy running character who can run and jump up walls. The style of gameplay tests gamers in precision unlike any previous game in the series has to date, and I personally enjoyed the levels featuring OddSock (when they weren’t broken) the most. The second addition is that of Toggle, a shapeshifting SackPerson who can flip between a large, lumbering, and brutish state, and a smaller, faster, and more maneuverable form. While the puzzling elements involving Toggle were challenging, they were more on par with what one experience with SackBoy, and wasn’t as impressive at those featuring OddSock. Lastly, you could play as Swoop, my fiancée‘s personal favorite. Swoop is a bird and as you might expect requires you to fly and swoop through obstacles and around enemies. The Swoop levels added the most difficult challenges because the player is required to tap X repeatedly to keep Swoop in flight, and combining that with near constant motion and avoiding obstacles made for some fun yet difficult levels.

Apart from the new characters and gameplay elements, LittleBigPlanet 3 also introduces new Power-Ups for your SackPerson to use, each giving you a special ability to progress through a level or reach previously inaccessible areas in a level to find more collectibles. Many of them were fun to play with but the method used to switch between them via your Popit menu was tedious and broke the flow of gameplay, especially in levels requiring the use of one or more power-ups.

This was actually fun...when you had the chance to do it.

Unfortunately, my fiancée and I did not get to explore the level creator and other community-based functions of LittleBigPlanet 3. This was purely due to the fact that we gave up on a game that is so glaringly in need of fixes and couldn’t find any reason to return once I beat the game (and I mean that I beat the game solo, because my fiancée rage quit for the last time near the end of the game and vowed never to return). It was a large disappointment for both of us that the third installment of this charming franchise didn’t even come close to living up to its predecessors. However, if there is a silver lining in all of this negativity (I guess I’ll go there), it’s that the bug and glitching problems plaguing LittleBigPlanet 3 are still 100% fixable. While it wouldn’t fix the loading times and the story/character issues, it would make the game more inviting for those of us who want a more consistent experience with our video games.

I wish I could say I recommend LittleBigPlanet 3 to gamers and fans of the previous installments, but there simply isn’t enough to be done that can cause me to overlook how broken the game can be at times. There’s still a ton of cuteness in the game, and if you’re one with a creative and imaginative mind, I’m sure you can find plenty to do with character customization and level editing. I, however, am not that type of person, and therefore cannot say with confidence that anyone would have a pleasant, cohesive romp through Bunkum in the main campaign mode. Not even SackBoy’s tongue-wagging happiness can sway me to the light.

#52GameChallenge Progress: 

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A Guide To Playing Final Fantasy Games In Order Across All Platforms

As a big Final Fantasy fan, I wish I could tell you when my first experience with the fabled and widely celebrated JRPG series occurred. I know when I absolutely fell in love with the series – that was when I played Final Fantasy VII for the first time on the original PlayStation (much like a lot of people around my age, living in North America). Still, I know that I had exposure to the series earlier than that, but all I have to go on is a vague memory from my childhood of playing a very difficult RPG on my SNES that I rented from a local Blockbuster. I assume the game was Final Fantasy III (or Final Fantasy VI to fans across the Pacific), but my memory is so foggy I can’t be positive.

The memory has haunted me for a long time, because I know I never finished that game long ago, and as big a fan I am of Final Fantasy, I’ve actually only beaten four games in the numbered series (and one of those is a sequel): Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy X-2. Honestly, that’s a pretty pathetic list for somebody who claims to be a fan. I can easily chalk it up to my youth when a lot of the games were released (I was born in 1986), but I’ve been an adult for way too long with a steady income to have any more excuses, especially since a lot of games have been ported to other systems for North American audiences.

I then began researching what it would take to play every numbered game in the series in order. As a resident in North America, I’m well aware of the odd releases and numbering surrounding some of the games (like Final Fantasy IV released in North America as Final Fantasy II for the SNES), and I started to realize this might be very befuddling to some gamers and fans of the series. I then decided I would create a helpful guide for those who wish to play any of the Final Fantasy series without the confusion. I’ve included the actual order of the numbered games below, and what systems folks in North America can play the game on, as well as any alternate names. I hope you find this helpful.

  • Nintendo DS (NDS)
  • Smart Phone (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
  • PlayStation Portable (PSP), via PlayStation Network
  • PC (via Steam)

  • Super Nintendo (SNES), as Final Fantasy III
  • PlayStation (PS1), as Final Fantasy Anthology
  • Game Boy Advance (GBA), as Final Fantasy VI Advance
  • PlayStation Store PS one Classic, as Final Fantasy VI
  • Smart Phone (iOS, Android)

  • PlayStation (PS1)
  • PlayStation Store PS one Classic
  • PC (via Steam)
  • PlayStation 4 (PS4), release date TBA

Final Fantasy X

  • PlayStation 2 (PS2)
  • PC
  • Xbox 360
  • Five expansions and three add-ons available

  • PlayStation 2 (PS2)

  • PC (via download and Steam)
  • PlayStation 3 (PS3)
  • PlayStation 4 (PS4)
  • Additional content released via multiple patches
  • One expansion announced for Spring 2015

There, now you North American fans of the much-loved Final Fantasy series have no more excuses when it comes to playing the numbered series in its entirety (and in order). I’m well aware that there are plenty of sequels and prequels and spin-offs of the main series games, and I have no problem with folks playing the sequels as a part of the experience. However, I believe that the original numbered games in the series are the stars of the show and that is why I’ve only included them in this list. I hope you’ve found this guide helpful, and good luck to any fans out there who plan on tackling this amazing series in order.

*I understand that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is not the original 14th game released. However, seeing as how Final Fantasy XIV Online failed and was eventually overhauled into ARR, and now that the original game servers are down, there is no legitimate way to play Final Fantasy XIV Online. Therefore, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is the logical choice for the 14th game in the series. 

#52GameChallenge - Conker's Bad Fur Day

I’m a bit behind on my write-ups for the #52GameChallenge, so this one is going to be shorter than others. I didn’t quite enjoy the experience as much as I thought I would, and I’d rather spend more time on other games I’ve played. Apologies to anyone who loves CBFD.

Even though the Nintendo 64 is my favorite console of all time (mainly for nostalgia, but the library isn’t half-bad either), there are still plenty of games for the plucky retro system that I haven’t played. One of those games is the infamous, lewd, and foul-mouthed Conker’s Bad Fur Day. One of the reasons is obvious – I was way too young to play it when it released in 2000. The other reason is because it’s a fairly uncommon game to find and therefore is a bit expensive, especially in good condition complete-in-box. Recently I had a stroke of luck and found a good copy via a friend who gave me a huge discount and was finally able to play this mature game I’d heard so much about.

Okay, maybe "mature" isn't the proper term. I'm old enough.
Now I wish I could say that I really enjoyed the game, but overall I found it frustrating and a little boring. While the dialogue is hilarious and pokes a lot of fun at gaming conventions, I found the lack of direction frustrating, and the platforming elements wore thin really quick. There simply wasn’t enough variety to keep me interested in each new world for long. Even when Conker goes FPS, those segments didn’t control well at all and the game was less than forgiving as a result (but the cut scenes and movie references are much appreciated and well done). Combine that with the ever-present Nintendo 64 camera issues and you’ve got an experience that leads to a lot of reloads. Fortunately, the game doesn’t take death or lives seriously and you pick up where you last left off when you die and even when it’s “Game Over”, so you’ll have no problem giving a difficult segment another go.

Regardless, the game didn’t live up to the hype. I can see why this might be though – back in 2000 a game with the crude humor and violence of CBFD was likely a bit of a shock, especially on the Nintendo 64. This led to it being ingrained as a barrier-breaking game in many people’s minds. Combine that with the limited number of games still available in the world leading to inflated second-hand prices and you’ve got a recipe for a game with high expectations but will likely fall flat as an average platformer at best. But look at the bright side Conker – you’ll always have Diddy Kong Racing to fall back on…

#52GameChallenge Progress: 

Monday, February 23, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Super Mario 3D World

No matter how many games I play, and no matter how many other games and series are released, I always find myself circling back to the world of Super Mario. So it was bound to happen during my #52GameChallenge that I’d add a Mario game to the mix, especially after buying a Wii U over the holiday season. And, just like a lot of Mari games I’ve played in my life, this one didn’t disappoint.

I’m talking about the lazily named Super Mario 3D World. Despite the name (which sounded like it was created by a bored Nintendo intern at the last minute) the game delivers in a major way. The biggest draw of the game is the multiplayer. Now I haven’t played a major Super Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii, so I’m not familiar with any previous platforming Mario games that allow simultaneous multiplayer. However, I’m also not a huge couch multiplayer fan unless it’s some retro games or sports games, but I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with a platformer playing with friends and family.

The game itself is standard for those familiar with Mario platformers: Bowser is causing issues by kidnapping some fairies, Mario (and Peach and Toad and Luigi) jumps in to assist, you traverse koopa-laden worlds to collect stars, and eventually face-off against Bowser and save the day. But there are some solid additions to this formula that make the game new and exciting for gamers who may’ve been on a newer Mario game hiatus. The coolest of which is the new cat suit that each character can don that allows them to scamper up walls and attack many enemies easily without having to stomp on them. Not only is it cooler and more useful than the Tanooki suit, but it makes the characters really cute (statement co-signed by my fiancée).

And let's not forget the adorable Plessie who whisks you around some levels.

But the biggest addition to the formula is the multiplayer aspect. Each world can be explored with up to four people at once on one screen. This can add some interesting dynamics to each playthrough of each level. Depending on who you’re playing with, the multiplayer can be co-op, or it can be highly competitive. If you’re like me and you prefer getting 100% on as many levels as possible, you’ll likely play nice with others. However, if you’re also like me and you want to be the best in anything you do, you’ll try and sabotage your friends. You see, not only is the game as a whole based on how many stars you collect to access new worlds and levels, each level itself judges players by how many coins and stars they collect, and who finishes higher on the end-level flag pole. And to make matters worse (or better), the person to finish first and highest on the flag pole gets their flag hoisted for that level on the world map.

What you’ve now got is a mad dash on screen by everybody to collect every star and coin first, but also to complete the level first while sabotaging everyone at the same time. As a result, you may want to pick your friends you play with very carefully. Or, if you’re very prone with ragequits and bouts of immature screaming matches and telling everyone to leave, it might be best to play alone (and seek some anger management help). 

Giant Luigi Death Stare Mode Activated!!!

The other multiplayer aspects are the ability to see and leave helpful little hints to other players about a level or the game overall. However, helpful hints are quite rare as most people use stickers you can collect in the game to leave little doodles and works of “art” to entertain you when you beat a level…so good luck finding that elusive 2nd star on your own.

Since I was simply having a blast the whole time I was playing Super Mario 3D World, it was hard to find anything to dislike about the experience. I will say that there was a flaw with the controls that led to some cheap deaths. You can pick up your fellow players and toss them, which can be helpful in some areas, but can also lead to friends being launched over a ledge accidentally when you don’t intend to pick them up. The only other negative I have to voice about this great game is the final boss fight and the game’s conclusion. I’ll not spoil anything, but the final confrontation with Bowser was frustrating at times, but once you get the hang of it, it’s over very quickly and you’re sitting there thinking that the ending didn’t do the game justice.

Still, the game can’t be judged just by those minor negatives, because it’ll please any fan of Mario and any gamer who enjoys hanging out with friends. I had to move on from this one to make room for other games in the #52GameChallenge, but I know that in the future I will definitely make my way back. There are plenty of stars and stickers to collect, as well as high scores to beat and a “Lost Levels”-esque world of timed levels with difficult enemies to test your skills. Of course a Mario game has high replay value! 

#52GameChallenge Progress: 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Tomba!

The next game in my #52GameChallenge is one that I wanted to play years ago, but unfortunately fell through the cracks until now. It wasn’t really my fault, though. The tale is boring so I’ll spare the details – I bought a lot of retro games from a guy on CraigsList one day and he said Tomba! was included. I was getting the games for an amazing price and Tomba! is a semi-rare and semi-valuable game, so I was excited. Sadly, the excitement was dashed when the guy said he couldn’t find the disc and only had the case. I kept the empty case as a reminder of what I almost had.

Fast forward a few years and I found a copy of Tomba! on CL again – not at as good as a price as presumed before, but decent nonetheless. I wasted almost no time in booting the game up to see if it lived up to the hype I’d heard from fanboys over the years (and I'm sure my opinion is going to upset some Tomba! faithful).

I’ll give a little background on the story, which makes no sense but it’s noteworthy as it adds that ever so important quirkiness seen in many earlier games that jumped right into gameplay, something  that so many modern games forsake for establishing a plot (there are pros and cons to each, but that’s for another day). Here’s the tale; evil pigs have taken control of the land and are making your world different that before and filled with more perils. Their magic is powered by gold and other valuables, and one day they steal Tomba’s gold bracelet, pissing him off and giving us motivation for defeating the evil pigs (you know, because them being evil and taking over the world isn’t enough).

WARNING: Clay Tomba and/or pigs may not appear in-game.

Good, now that you know why Tomba is your protagonist, on to the gameplay. I was immediately caught off balance by the controls. Tomba! is a platformer but because it was on the PS1 and technically in 3D, the developers made the worlds you explored layered. This means that Tomba can jump from the foreground to the background(s) in areas that have them. This adds an interesting dynamic to exploration, because sometimes items are unattainable until to you jump to another layer. It was very different from anything I’d seen previously in a game, and while confusing at first, I eventually became a master at finding where and when to jump back and forth.

As a platformer, Tomba! is decent but frustrating. Sometimes I felt the platforming spiked in difficulty at odd times without warning. One level you’d be jumping from large platforms, and the next you’d be jumping from small platforms and ropes over a huge chasm of death. I know I was a bit out of practice when it came to platformers of advanced difficulty, so part of it was me. However, it made me rage a couple of times when I went from having 12 lives to 2 just to get through one small portion of a level (especially knowing I had to go back later).

Another oddity of the game is defeating enemies. Most you can simply jump on to defeat…with an added twist. Tomba “paralyzes” enemies by biting them, and then can throw them in a number of directions. Sometimes this comes in handy because it allows you to defeat enemies by using a paralyzed one as a weapon. It was truly a unique element of the game and it’s one you have to experience or see to understand how it’s best utilized. Also, the hit-boxes for some enemies were odd and led to Tomba receiving damage when I thought I’d jumped on them correctly, but with an odd way of killing enemies there were bound to be snags.

Hey, you unlocked Lava Caves...prepare to die!

The biggest frustration with the game is the exploration. The game world isn’t that large, but the way missions/events (which pop up randomly when you talk to someone or do certain tasks) are structured require you to backtrack a significant amount of time, even all the way back to the starting point of the game. It wouldn’t be a burden except that the game gives little to no clues or hints regarding your next step, and when you do get a clue it’s usually cryptic and/or given at a point way before you unlock the event. So you either have to use a pen and paper to write everything down, or have a photographic memory. Obviously the game wanted to encourage exploration and challenge the gamer to think about the events in the game rather than hold your hand throughout, so I can appreciate it from that perspective, even if I was annoyed at times.

Tomba! also incorporated some role-playing elements which, while diluted, still added good variety to what would normally be “just a platformer”. Throughout the game, Tomba can gain more health-slots by completing certain events, and Tomba can level up by defeating enemies. While there were obvious benefits to increased health, I was never able to figure out how defeating more enemies and “leveling up” made Tomba more powerful or helped me beat the game easier. Perhaps an event would unlock if I hit the max level 10, but I never got that far. Plenty of room for clarification and improvement in the RPG elements, but as a platformer it’s forgiven.

Overall, I will say that Tomba! was a bit of a disappointment. The quirkiness and little bonus 3D and RPG elements wore thin once the frustrating platforming reared its head. On top of all that, the method of defeating enemies became dry over the 7+ hour adventure, and even the boss battles (not previously discussed) all felt the same and got boring by the 3rd one. I can understand how this game may have seemed exciting and innovative when it was released, and I don’t want to stomp on anyone’s nostalgia, but in 2015 I can’t bring myself to say that I would play this again or recommend it to a friend. At least I can say I’ve played it now, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

#52GameChallenge Progress: 6/52

Saturday, February 07, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Battleblock Theater

I’m going to keep this short but sweet about my time with Battleblock Theater – it’s a frustrating game that has the potential to absolutely ruin friendships and relationships. I say this because I played this game exclusively in 2-player mode with my fiancé and I’m not proud to say that she saw a very different side of me during our co-operative quest.

On its own Battleblock Theater is a cute game with a weird story told by one of the most hilarious voice-acting performances in a game I’ve ever heard. Seriously, this game is 100% responsible for me having a HUGE man-crush on Stamper, the voice of the game’s narrator. If you have no idea what I’m talking about or what the big deal is, stop reading right now and search for “Battleblock Theater Cutscenes” on YouTube. Go ahead, I’ll wait….




I KNOW RIGHT?!? HILARIOUS! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched those cutscenes because of Stamper’s voice-acting. It’s a work of hilarious art.

Okay, enough about my love for Stamper, because the game is more than the narration. Most of what you do in this game is go through levels with deadly traps in order to collect gems and other items to advance. The levels increase in difficulty as you go along, but at points late in the game it felt like the game just wants to be a dick and make you hate your life as a gamer.

This is particularly frustrating when you’ve playing co-op with someone who doesn’t have the gaming experience, skills, or dexterity on your level, because they will die…a lot. That’s when they get frustrated even more than you are because completing the level seems damn near impossible, and it leads to arguing about strategy, rage-quits, and sleeping on the couch as the cat stares at you as if to say, “You should’ve kept your mouth shut, you idiot.” On the list of things that have the potential to end relationships, I’d rank Battleblock Theater second, behind Ikea of course.

So that’s why I highly recommend rethinking playing this game co-operatively unless your partner is an experienced platformer and knows their way around a controller. I still plan on tackling the game solo, but I think I need a large amount of time away before I can do so sanely. I’d also likely have to do so when my fiancé is away so it doesn’t reopen old wounds. Yea, good memories with this game…

#52GameChallenge Progress: 5/52

Sunday, January 25, 2015

#52GameChallenge - The Swapper

As I start writing this, I’m not even sure what I can say about a game like The Swapper. It was a game completely off my radar until a follower on Twitter suggested it for my #52GameChallenge. Even then I wasn’t very convinced until it became available for free on as part of my PS+ membership. I figured at that point I had no more excuses to ignore this dark puzzler, so I booted it up. What I experienced was a game that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

I’ll start with the basics. The game puts you in the role of a lone space explorer who happens upon a derelict ship and decides to explore. It quickly becomes clear that at some point things went pretty poorly for the crew, as there are no other signs of life except infrequent run-ins with another lone explorer also trying to figure things out.

At its core, The Swapper is a puzzler. There are some platforming elements, but their hardly difficult enough to warrant much attention. The bulk of your tasks will involve using a swapping device acquired on-board the ship to create clones of yourself, and throwing your consciousness into said clones to reach normally inaccessible areas. While simple at first (e.g. – create a clone on a high ledge then swap your consciousness to the clone), the difficulty of puzzles and tasks expectedly increases as the game progresses. Add in portions with zero gravity, lights that block cloning and swapping capabilities, and gravity reversal, and you’ve got a game that’s as challenging as it is confusing.

Me, Myself, and I...and another guy...and that dude.

I say confusing because while you’re scratching your head at the newest puzzles to obtain orbs to power portions of the ship, there’s a story going on in the background. Remember that other lone explorer on the ship? Well, they’re also trying to figure out what happened on the ship, and through what they tell you and what you read in the ship’s logs you learn that the ship found sentient, intelligent rocks on a nearby planet and brought them aboard for study. Yes, this whole story revolves round rocks. With brains. And a consciousness. Or a soul. I’m not really sure. And that’s where The Swapper falls short.

I’m not saying that I expect a puzzler to have a great story like a JRPG or other genre, but the creators of the game clearly wanted it to have an intriguing and engaging story. I’ll admit that at first I was curious about the events that led to the ship being abandoned, but after the first 30 minutes the story didn’t progress much in plot until the last 15 minutes of this 4+ hour game. If you’re trying to make the story central to your game, that’s too large of a gap in a short game without any progression.

Still, there’s a pretty neat little plot twist in the waning moments of the game and a dichotomous decision to make that caused a minor internal conflict. But then the game ends with some long-winded reflection about existence, the soul, consciousness, and life/death that frankly seemed out of place. It seemed as if the creators were trying to be creatively philosophical but the whole thing came off as confusing and quite frankly ostentatious. If they spent more time focusing on the “great questions of the mind/body/soul” throughout the whole game, maybe this would’ve fit, but instead it seemed pretentious.

All-in-all, The Swapper is a creative twist on the puzzler genre, and I found it challenging, but never frustrating. If you can look past the inflated ego of a story presented to you, then you’ll have a great time with this game. I even found myself wishing it was longer because the puzzles are that fun and do a good job making you think before acting, and experimenting with different methods. I’d definitely recommend this game to anyone looking for a good, cheap (albeit quick) time.

#52GameChallenge Progress: 4/52

Monday, January 19, 2015

#52GameChallenge - DuckTales: Remastered

I recently learned that no matter how long you’ve been gaming, and no matter much you’ve been able to say to yourself “it’s only a game…”, eventually a game will come along and make you not only rage quit, but also throw your controller like a petulant child. For me, it happened to be my third game in the #52GameChallenge, DuckTales: Remastered on the PS3.

Now I knew the original DuckTales for the NES was known for being challenging. I even have vague memories of a younger me playing it and not getting very far at all. However, despite this knowledge and history with the NES version, I didn’t expect the remastered version to be that difficult. Perhaps I expected Capcom to downgrade the difficulty significantly, or maybe I just thought that adult me could handle any game that younger me couldn’t handle. Regardless I was sorely mistaken, and my mental stability and controller both took a beating as a result.

That’s not to say that my overall experience with DuckTales: Remastered wasn’t enjoyable. On the contrary – I found the game to be not only beautifully redone in HD, but the artwork and voice acting were so well-done that I was bombarded with a wave of nostalgia multiple times while playing. Anyone who grew up reading DuckTales comics and/or watching the cartoon will immediately recall some of the tied-in stories (even the weird one about the Terra-Firmians), and I almost guarantee it’ll have you on YouTube looking for episodes to watch.

As stated above, DuckTales: Remastered was infuriating at times, but it wasn’t so all the time. The game is a great platformer at its core, with the added element of having to use Scrooge McDuck’s cane to bounce on enemies to defeat them, and to reach high places. The game gives you the option of making the cane-bounce either easy or hard to use, hard being you have to press a button each time to bounce, and easy being you just hold the button down for continued bounce. I took the easy way and still had a tough time getting through the very first stage. However, once you got the hang of the controls you start to appreciate the challenge presented to you.

Each stage consists of Scrooge trying to obtain a lost treasure, and sometimes rescuing his friends or nephews, and while they sound like simply fetch missions, you’ll be presented with different obstacles in each level that requires you to change up your style of play. For example, the Himalayan level causes Scrooge to sink into the snow when he uses his cane-bounce, something that to that point you’ll become reliant upon if you played any level previously. DuckTales: Remastered does a great job of keeping the game fresh despite a limited range of game mechanics (there are even some DKC-esque minecart portions), which, if taken from the NES edition, must’ve been crucial to the original DuckTales cult success.

Prepare to throw something in rage...
I guess I should talk about my controller-flinging frustration with the game. Really it all boils down to cheap deaths, and there were plenty for me to get angry about. The real kicker for me was the final chapter of the game, but I think my frustration was a culmination of many other cheap deaths along the way. During the minecart sections I mentioned above, if you jump your momentum carries Scrooge along with the cart so he always lands back in it…that is until the tracks end. A few times I simply jumped assuming the momentum would carry me to safety only to plummet along with the minecart to my death. Other cheap deaths were the result of enemies knocking Scrooge back into a pit, and other enemies/obstacles causing insta-death without any warning. It all came to a head when the final level provided not only a spike in difficulty, but also the longest sequence of platforming action to that point in the game. I won’t spoil anything but let’s just say that after a grueling romp to get to and finally defeat the end boss, there are not one but two other platforming sequences to finally beat the game. They completely surprised me and on two occasions I died and had to start over during those two ending sequences. Yea, that’s when my controller got chucked and I rage quit. Thanks Capcom!

Still, through all that I persevered and eventually beat the game. There were fun things to do after beating the game like collect more money for your vault and use it to buy gallery art and music from the game and TV show, but I wasn’t really interested in any of that. Perhaps it was the recent frustrations I’d experienced that turned me off to 100% completion. Regardless, I had a decently fun experience with DuckTales: Remastered. There’s plenty there for masochists who want more of a challenge, but I’m not that person. I will say that I’m glad it was free, because while the nostalgia factor was high, the overall value was not worth spending money on, putting this game in a “rent only” category. At least I got the DuckTales theme song stuck in my head for a week, so I had that going for me, which is nice.

#52GameChallenge Progress: 3/52

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Titan Attacks!

At a young age I was introduced to the world of gaming. Those who read this blog know that my first console experience was with the Sega Genesis, but what I haven’t expressed is how much arcade games were introduced into my life at the exact same time. I can recall begging my mom at the age of 6 for quarters to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road (anyone remember those?), and X-Men. Once my parents saw my love for the old uprights, they introduced me to their favorite classics like Joust, Donkey Kong, and Centipede. However, none stuck with me more than the all-time great shooter, Galaga, which remains one of my all-time favorite arcade games to this day.

So it’s no surprise that I would find myself pleasantly surprised when I began playing Titan Attacks! for the PS3 as my 2nd game of the #52GameChallenge. That’s because Titan Attacks! blends what people loved about classic arcade shooters like Galaga and Space Invaders into a neat little HD package. Where a lot of games (including shoot ‘em ups) are trying to create the next big thing and change their gameplay in new and sometimes bizarre ways, the folks at Puppy Games knew that all a game needs to be fun sometimes is addictive gameplay that’s easy to learn and tough to master.

Well they certainly nailed it with Titan Attacks! It may not be as difficult as it’s forefathers in the shoot ‘em up genre, but it’s still completely addictive and loads of fun. The game starts slow, and I mean really slow, with your ship about as dangerous and deadly as a marshmallow gun. However, it progressively ramps up the complexity and difficulty to the point where you’re making skill shots and avoiding enemy fire without blinking or even knowing how you’re pulling it off. It got to the point where I felt almost unstoppable and wanted the game to keep throwing increasingly difficult scenarios at me until it killed me.

Whoops, wrong "Attack" and wrong "Titan". If only Titan Attacks! had as much action...

Unfortunately, one of the biggest weaknesses of Titan Attacks! is that it’s terribly short. I was able to get through 100 waves and collect all the trophies in a couple of hours, which wouldn't be an issue except that once you hit 100 waves, the game starts you back at the easy levels with your beefed up destroyer of a ship. You can only play the same 100 waves over and over again which doesn't give the game much replayability. I wasn't even that tempted to try and get a better high score, which is one thing Titan Attacks! failed to bring over from its predecessors (I obsess over high scores when I play Galaga in the arcade).

The other major drawback of Titan Attacks! is its difficulty, or rather lack thereof. Once you get to about the midpoint of the game you’ll find some of the waves challenging, and a couple of the boss battles can leave you with barely a shield left when you achieve victory, but for the other 80% of the game it’s closer to “ho-hum” than “IF I BLINK I’M DEAD!” I don’t think Puppy Games did a great job of balancing your potential ship upgrades and the wave difficulty in the latter stages of the game, leaving you feeling overpowered and bored.

Overall, I don’t think I would recommend this new take on the classic shoot ‘em up unless you could get the game for free (or a major cut from the $12 price tag). I did get a couple of enjoyable hours out of Titan Attacks!, and I was very pleased and nostalgic when I saw how it pays homage to great classics like Space Invaders and Galaga. I just wish that the experience could challenged me for more than just a 20 minute stretch of gameplay. It’s certainly enjoyable while it lasts, but the experience is just too short to warrant shelling out the asking price. Instead, I’d recommend finding a Galaga or Space Invaders cabinet nearby and dropping a few coins into that. Support your local arcade!

#52GameChallenge Progress: 2/52

Thursday, January 08, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

The first game I tackled for the #52GameChallenge was really not intended. As mentioned in my last post, I recently purchased a Wii U. It was a Black Friday bundle deal that came with four(!) games: Nintendoland, Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros., and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. I started with SSB because, well, it was the hottest Nintendo game at the time. Plus, as someone who sucks at fighting games, the SSB franchise is the only one that I've found moderate ability in, so I was very excited to test it out.

But, like always, my gaming ADD kicked in and I found myself wanting more than of a story or a purpose in the game I was playing. After much deliberation, I settled on Tropical Freeze. This wasn't by accident: I was a HUGE DKC fan as a kid. I owned all three DKC titles on the SNES and reached 100% completion I all of them without the use of a guide. I was obsessed with those games, and to this day they are tops on my list of the best gaming soundtracks of all time.

Thus, I booted up DKC: TF to help the Kong family rescue their island from permafrost. Mind you, this was all before I decided to take on the #52GameChallenge, so the decision was made purely out of desire to play, not to fill a quota (which I intend to avoid anyway during this challenge). Regardless, it was a great decision, as I was not only greeted by a wave of nostalgia while playing, but an enjoyable experience from start to finish.

From my childhood memories, Tropical Freeze plays and feels just like DKC games of old, and why not – if it ain't broke, don’t fix it, right? The combination of rolling and jumping platform action is easy to figure out, but just as difficult as ever to master, meaning I experienced quite a lot of falling deaths as I misjudged distances and momentum. Still, the number of cheap-feeling deaths was minimal and overall I learned a lot from my deaths and was able to use them to build a picture of the whole level in my head, which is key to finding all the K-O-N-G and puzzle pieces in each world.

I appreciate the reference, but Funky Kong is still annoying.

I enjoyed the game visually as well – each world was vibrant, with background animations giving you a sense that you were on an island that was alive with activity. The beautiful worlds were filled with equally beautiful sound and music, which I’d expect from a DKC game (this soundtrack immediately vaulted to the list of gaming OSTs I listen to regularly).

There were some things I found a bit disheartening about the game, though. One of the biggest was that the game did not allow you to use the Wii U gamepad simultaneously while playing on the television. This seemed a bit odd since almost every game I've experienced on the Wii U allows you to use both at the same time. You did have the option to switch between screens while playing, but it would've been nice to just get up and walk away for a minute without interrupting gameplay.

Lastly, Tropical Freeze did tone down the difficulty severely from what I remember of the SNES titles. Obtaining extra lives (in the form of red balloons) was quite easy and you retained those lives when the game shut off, a departure from the earlier titles. I understand that Nintendo is making gaming more family-friendly (something I love about the gaming giant), so in that context I can understand it. I just wish there was a more challenging mode to use right from the start (you unlock Hard Mode after getting 100% completion).

Overall, I loved my experience with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. For fans of the series, it’ll be a nice jog down memory lane (with a few throwback Easter Eggs hidden in the game to keep you company). For newcomers, it’s a great introduction to the series due to its curbed difficulty. It’s definitely a game that makes me very happy that I finally pulled the trigger and bought a Wii U.

#52GameChallenge Progress: 1/52

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

#52GameChallenge - My New Year's Gaming Resolution

Happy New Year to everyone! It’s been quite some time since I wrote a new post for the blog, and seeing as how it’s 2015, I made a few gaming resolutions to keep me in gaming shape: to game more than or on par with 2014, pay more attention to Nintendo (already ahead of schedule as I bought the Wii U in 2014), and of course, get back to writing posts for my neglected gaming blog. The first two were pretty easy to accomplish since I love gaming, and my new Wii U is phenomenal, but I was having a bit of a writer’s block over the last week. Even the stuff I wrote or brainstormed seemed flat and unworthy to publish. I was feeling quite discouraged, until just the other day I was scrolling through Twitter and found my muse.

I heard about a little thing called the #52GameChallenge (props to @DoughtyJ for exposing me to this), and it piqued my interest. I assumed it meant that one would have to play a game a week (on average) in order to play a total of 52 games in a calendar year. My assumptions were correct and I thought this would be a great way to adhere to all three of my resolutions. I was already playing a few games and actually had one in the books for 2015 so I figured why not give the #52GameChallenge a go.

For the blog, I’ll try and do a write-up for every game I complete during the #52GameChallenge. I won’t be doing these as reviews since I’ll probably be too busy balancing work and gaming to get the full experience out of every game (e.g. – 100% completion or completing most side quests). Instead, I’ll give a brief description of the game (if needed), why I chose to play this game for the challenge, my overall opinion on the game based on my experience, and some snippets about the games positives and negatives. I want to make this an enjoyable experience not just for me, but for you, the reader, so I’ll do my best to be as concise as possible (I know I tend to get very wordy with my posts).

There you have it: the #52GameChallenge – my New Year’s Gaming Resolution. I encourage every gamer, if they’re able, to attempt the #52GameChallenge. You don’t even have to have a massive backlog like me or go out and spend tons of money on new or used games. There’s plenty of freeware out there you can play on consoles and PC, so the only excuse you have is lack of desire to challenge yourself. I look forward to sharing my experience with you all and to hearing about your amazing journey through the #52GameChallenge in the comments, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Happy Gaming!