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!