You Should Play Guacamelée if You Haven’t Yet
If you haven’t yet played Guacamelée, you should: it’s an example of good level design, engaging action, and a well-integrated story in a platformer. It’s also really funny. Drinkbox Studios wrote a comedic story full of fun-poking at luchador and Spanish culture, and built an acceptably plausible story around it all. And it helps that it’s just the right length.
The premise is that an agave farmer who’s in love with a childhood friend who may be out of his league faces off against an undead guy who has merged the realms of the living and dead on the Dia de la Muerte, who has kidnapped said childhood friend. The agave farmer is promptly killed, but a mysterious and magical luchador mask revives him and gives him superhuman luchador abilities. From that point, you can play either has him or the female luchador who guides him (so you’re not locked into one gender), and you can purchase costume changes that alter your character’s strengths and weaknesses. But the overall game has a metroidvania feel to it, in that you unlock new abilities (via a goat-man) and must revisit previously blocked-off areas. The plot guides you to the newly opened up areas, so it’s not so metroidvania in that sense, but it will have you doing fun platformer things for 5-8 hours.
Watch Dogs Impressions
Watch_Dogs is just good enough to keep you hooked. The story’s mediocre, the constant internal monologues explaining uber-hacker Aiden Pierce’s feelings causes eye-rolling, and the driving feels heavy and stiff, but everything’s beautiful and hacking brings a welcome variation to the shoot a hundred armed enemies equation. It’s a lot of fun.
But it doesn’t feel as beautiful as Red Dead Redemption, GTA V, or Sleeping Dogs did when they first came out—an important thing since the initial preview of Watch_Dogs really pushed what we’ve seen from a sandbox game’s graphics and we did not get what we were promised. And the hacking becomes repetitive once you find your personal strategy for hacking the environment to Aiden’s advantage.
The biggest complaint I see around the internet (after the graphics-are-not-as-good-as-they-were-hyped-to-be and the frame rate complaints) is about the way the driving feels. The last game from a similar genre that many people who play Watch_Dogs will have played was GTA V, and after going from its driving mechanics to Watch_Dogs’, Watch Dogs’ feels like you’re playing with a solid metal toy tank: the weight of the vehicles and their momentum feels wrong, and the result is that you feel like you really are playing a video game instead of feeling immersed in the faux-Chicago surveillance state.
Another issue I have has to do with the technology—which is a problem, since that’s the entire crux of the game. In the world of Watch_Dogs, the city of Chicago is surveilled and operated under one unified system: ctOS. This network links to the power grid, cell phones, cameras, trains, traffic lights, car alarms, electronic gates, steam pipes, tire spikes, road barriers, helecopters, and facial recognition data. Aiden has hacked into the one, unified system running the entire city, and can control anything he wants to from his smartphone (which is represented in-game by pressing “X” or square). When you’re tasked with actively hacking a system, it’s done by rotating nodes on what I call a separate “puzzle screen” until the active lines connect to the end-node. Sometimes you’ll trigger an alarm countdown and you’ll have to work quickly. This sort of thing has appeared in other games, and it’s never exciting. Occasionally it may make you think for a moment, but it doesn’t make you feel like you’re hacking and it doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been given a great challenge to overcome, so ultimately it doesn’t add much to the gameplay experience. I wish there were a more interesting way to activate environment-hacking than holding one button down, but I suppose it was done this way in order to uphold the quick pace of the game. Still, why would the entire city run on one network??
I know I sound bitter, but I do mostly like the gameplay. I was just hoping everything surrounding it would be more engaging. Maybe I’ll feel more positive about the next 17 hours than I did the first 17.
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea, Episodes 1 & 2I really enjoyed Bioshock Infinite’s “Burial at Sea” DLC: It was thoughtful, well-planned, and extended the story and world—what all good DLC should do. Here are my tweets as I was finishing it up:
What really completed the experience for me was the fact that the DLC was part one and two of a full side story with plenty of the kind of heart-heaviness the main story included.
Without spoiling the main game, here’s the gist of “Burial at Sea:” You play as the main characters from Infinite if they’d existed in the underwater city Rapture instead of the floating city Columbia. Private detective, is approached by Elizabeth with a job: help her track down the missing Sally, a little girl Elizabeth fears has fallen victim to the ADAM trade and been turned into a Little Sister. But other things are at play…
Episode 1 is interesting and nostalgic, giving you the opportunity to explore a graphically-updated Rapture as Booker. And because Episode 1 builds the world and story so well, Episode 2 is even better as a result: you’re given control of a superpower-inhibited Elizabeth this time, as she tries to fix a mess that got out of hand and get Sally out of the hands of people who would do her harm. And though the plot sounds like a straightforward save the princess plot, it couldn’t be farther from that: Sally is simply a catalyst to the complicated plot Irrational Games has conceived, full of hope and heartache, friendship and loneliness, and insights about mortality, the universe, time, and consequence.
And the ending changed my perception of the entire series. Well done. This game really made me think, and that’s something I really appreciate.
This is where my weeknights have gone. God, Child of Light is so beautiful, so charming.
You come across this when you trace the edge of a cliff, and if you continue to trace it, it turns into what looks like regular rocky terrain again. Just really great illustration and map design.
I’m playing on the Wii U and it looks fantastic, and switching to play on the GamePad when the TV is occupied or it’s late at night is a great perk.
4/2: Animal Crossing: New Leaf
If we’re being honest, I’m not actually sure what I like about Animal Crossing: New Leaf, or why I feel compelled to jump into the game multiple times a day. I can sort of pinpoint what it’s all about, though: It’s about getting off of a train and being told you’re in charge—but also that you’re in debt. It’s about the player’s secret lust for power, and how good neighbors can transform that into a good thing. It’s about the feeling of getting out of debt so you can begin to do some good. But mostly, it’s about getting rich off of hobbies and light farming, and living the virtual life you would rather have in a virtual town that’s better than your own (because you have a major say in its evolution).
When I arrived in the town of Robopoli, it was just a few houses and some trees. Now it’s a minor tourist attraction, with beautiful flowers, a comedy club, and a boat to a tropical island (Kapp’n sings me the sweetest songs).
The game is full of heartbreak, too: when you take a break for a while you run the risk of neighbors moving out because they don’t feel special. But new animals will move in and grow to love you in their place—as long as you make sure you never, ever stop playing for more than a couple of days!
I was going to gather screenshots of my exploits, but instead I’ll just post these, my favorite two moments that all players will experience in the game. They’re older screenshots from around when it launched (you can see it’s summer), they really bring a human experience to what quickly becomes an unhealthy obsession with selling beetles.
There’s a magic to Animal Crossing and to New Leaf in particular which Nintendo captured so well. It’s a world that owes everything to you, but that you owe so much to as well (quite literally—building a house and upgrading a town really costs you), and in that way, it’s very much a mirror into your own life—but one with so much more charm. You’ll fall in love with it, and then you’ll get stung.
Why you be hatin’, mosquito?!
2/7 through 3/24: Bravely Default Impressions, 40-ish Hours In
When Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light released for the DS, I wrote a positive review. It looked like a moving painting, the characters were adorable but hardcore, and the battle system took old mechanics and adapted them to feel good both on the go and on the DS specifically. Bravely Default is a great spiritual successor to that game—both by Square-Enix—despite not carrying the “Final Fantasy” label. You’ll see shared themes like huge, elemental crystals that need tending to, and spells like Cura, Fira, Esuna, etc. The job class system is straight out of earlier Final Fantasy games (with added tweaks), and it hits all of the required Final Fantasy notes like airships, a seemingly evil empire with their own agenda, and a main character with amnesia (who adorably goes by the name “Ringabel” since he doesn’t know his real name).
Here’s the gist: The game takes the traditional JRPG model and adds a few modern touches, like the ability to speed up battles at any time and change the encounter rate on the fly. There’s also automatic dialog scrolling, auto-battle based on your previously selected moves (which is fantastic when you up the battle speed), and the addition of “braving” and “defaulting.” This new trick allows you to queue up turns (“Default”) or spend future turns at once (“Brave”), which puts that character in a turn deficit but lets them to brave their chances by going all out at once and risk taking no action for several turns, adding additional strategy to the turn-based mix.
Otherwise, Bravely Default is fairly by-the-numbers, but with charm. From Edea murmuring “Mrgrgr” out of frustration, to Angés sternly stating “unacceptable” when someone speaks rudely, to the adorable illustrations and clever dialog, the game manages to keep the mechanics of ye olde RPG and still feel modern. And then there are the 24 job classes you’ll unlock along the way, which can apply to any character and also assigned as subclasses (you can use the abilities you’ve already unlocked, but no job points will accumulate for that class). On top of that, StreetPass gains you villagers to repopulate main character Tiz’s town, Norende, which is destroyed in the game’s intro scenes. You’ll manage the restoration of the town, and restoration happens in real time as you play the story. StreetPass also lets you collect other players characters, who you can then summon during battle to use an ability set by their owner (damage/healing is based on the borrowed character’s level).
So there’s your intro. Now on to my thoughts.
Just One More Job Level
After curiously glancing at GameFaqs, I learned that there are eight chapters to the game. I’ve spent 41 hours playing and I’m only at the end of Chapter 3 (I became obsessed with job-leveling). Bravely Default is the first game in a long time that’s made me want to grind, and that’s had me do it willingly. I’m level 44, each job I’ve unlocked is between levels 6 and 9 (of 14) with at least one of my characters, and I completed the restoration of Norende hours and hours ago (in Chapter 2). I’ve probably spent at least 15 hours more than I would have if I’d have just played through the chapters at a regular pace. Doing side quests for new job classes added time, too.
But that’s what I love about Bravely Default: it keeps you engaged, whether you’re doing menial tasks like grinding for your next job ability, watching cutscenes, or reading Ringabel’s journal. The heroes are heroic with a dash of gray, and the villains become increasingly complex as you learn more about their backstories and character—a staple of a good Square-Enix game.
The job class options can become overwhelming: The game’s 24 classes unlock slowly by progressing through the main plot and by doing sidequests, so I’m constantly trying to decide which character should use which class, and which other job should be their subclass. In the end, I’ve assigned jobs based on what I think each character’s strongest personality traits are (after all, it is a role-playing game): Angés is my castor/healer, Tiz is mostly support, Edea is damage/tank, and Ringabel gets the sly/narcissistic jobs (currently Thief1/Performer2).
The beauty of the sidequests, though, is I can’t envision going through the main plot without the knowledge gained from those quests. Each sidequest introduces you to another enemy you must defeat to gain their asterisk (orbs that allow you to use a job class), but through a series of cutscenes and in-battle dialog you learn about who that enemy really is and what their goals are in relation to the main plot. You may also unlock journal entries or reports from those enemies, further deepening their character and motivations (the summoner Mephillia’s story and journal pages particularly struck me).
I guess what I’m saying is I’m really attached to Bravely Default, and that this is, so far, the best Final Fantasy game I’ve played in a long time—even if it isn’t titled that way.
One last thing you should know: There’s a lot of innuendo in the game’s dialog, and it’s almost always used humorously, mockingly, or for flattery. While it at first felt like it could be going down a sexist route, it becomes used on both male and female characters, and the female characters do not take well to being talked to in a sexist or sexual fashion. These characters are strong, largely independent women, and will fiercely defend themselves with their words or their fists, depending on the situation. Still, a lot the innuendo and straight-up pickup lines are actually funny and shows that, though the game may look family friendly on the surface, this is a game for a more mature audience.
I’ll write more when I’m further in, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the game so far.
The Thief attack “Godspeed” is ridiculously damaging to the point of being overpowered and unbalancing most battles; it does damage based on the user’s speed and ignores the target’s physical defense, though it comes at the cost of losing that character’s next two turns. ↩
Uses MP to cast buffs on the whole party. Yes, this is a support ability and should go to Tiz based on how I divvied out jobs, but Performer matches Ringabel’s personality better. ↩
1/25: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Demo, and Why I’ve Had It up To Here
(Note: This reaction may be a bit harsh, but it was my honest, raw reaction after playing this demo.)
I liked Final Fantasy XIII, I did. But I really, really, really disliked Final Fantasy XIII-2. Playing that sequel was like playing a totally different series that included the same characters: it didn’t continue the story of FFXIII, it put you in the shoes of new characters instead of the main characters we spent hours and hours and hours getting to know in the first game, and the time travel mechanic didn’t relate to anything we’d seen in the previous game. It really was its own game, it just happened to take place in the same general world with some of the same people in it. (I wrote out my thoughts on FFXIII here, and some more here.)
And the ending of XIII-2 didn’t seem to resolve anything, and it ended on a “to be continued.” Infuriating. I did like Yeul, though I don’t think they did enough with her. (I complained about FFXIII-2 here.)
Now there’s Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Yup, it is certainly not “Final Fantasy XIII-3,” because that would imply that the plot would make sense when going into the game after playing XIII-2. Judging by the demo, LR:FFXIII is very much its own game as well. The demo picks up at a place that feels fairly far in: Lightning gets into an altercation with Snow and has to chase him while fighting random battles along the way.
Things I Didn’t Like:
- This is a poor place to start a demo. I have no idea what time period this takes place in. Apparently, Snow has been alive for centuries (what?). I assume the full game will explain, but why throw something like that into the demo and not explain it? It doesn’t compel me to play the game to find out more, it just annoys me for raising a very big question and not even hinting at an answer.
- Hey, JRPG developers: it’s 2014. Can we please stop with the in-battle one-liners that repeat when you attack?
- The dialog is hokey (and that goes for all three games). A lot of what’s said out loud by the characters would probably be okay when read in a speech bubble/text box, but when spoken out loud it sounds lame and hokey and awkward, like a poorly written anime or live-action comic book movie.
- People referring to there being “too much chaos” in an area (dark energy that clouds a room) sounds awkward.
- Talking over a radio to Hope about how Snow has lost his hope is awkward.
- Why are Lightning and Hope and Snow talking to each other like they haven’t known each other for two 30+ hour games?
- Does Lightning need to pose at the end of every single battle? It interrupts the flow of the game. Also, why is Lightning flipping her hair at the end of a battle when in the black mage outfit? This fundamentally goes against her character, which has been developed as being stoic, guarded, dignified, and never girlie.
- Job classes are called “schematas.” Did we need a fancy name for job classes? Did we need a term that differs from the previous two games in the series (it was previously called a “paradigm”).
- This series does a lot of explaining about how things work within its world, so I really hope the full game explains how Lightning can switch clothing on the fly. This is under the “didn’t like” list because I somehow doubt they do, other than explaining it away with “Lightning is a goddess.”
- Lightning is a goddess, referred to as “the Savior,” and serves God.
No, not a mythical god-like being like Cosmos (see Final Fantasy Dissidia), but God God. You know, the one from the Bible and whatnot.*Edit: I’ve been told that it’s made more clear in the full game that the god being referred to is not what I thought, and is indeed mythical.*
- The third entry in a series should not introduce a new battle system; it should improve on the system that appeared in the previous two games. It took me about 6 battles before I realized that the multiple meters on the screen were actually the ATB meters that were unique to each job class I could switch to on the fly, and were not used by all job classes. For example, the blue meter only shows how many for black mage actions you can take, but the yellow meter shows how many savior actions you can take, and they refill over time, even if you’re not using that job class. This was not explained well in the demo.
- The menus feel heavy and overcomplicated, especially since the demo does not give you much information.
- The demo menu lists your three job classes that you can switch between during battle, and also three sub-classes. But there’s no explanation as to how to use the sub-classes, or what they’re for. I wanted to be a red mage, dammit!
- The stagger system has changed since the previous two games, just enough that I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. This is especially disappointing since I was a pro at the previous stagger system.
- Guarding an attack depletes some of the ATB gauge, so if you’ve attacked too much with one schemata, you won’t be able to guard. I can see this becoming not only annoying, but very dangerous and frustrating during an important battle.
Things I Did Like:
- The opening cinematic reminded me of the opening cinematic of Final Fantasy VII, in which the camera pans over the city and zooms in onto the people.
- Being able to run outside of battle helps keep the fast pace of the game. Attacking an enemy in the field in order to gain a pre-emptive bonus.
- The new battle system is OK, I guess. I like being able to move around during battle (though the Tales series does this much better), and it’s satisfying to have your attacks happen live.
- I still like Lightning. I hope the whole goddess stuff is fully explained in the full game.
- The graphics look nice enough.
But let’s get real for a moment: There are 13 days until the end of the world, and Lightning has to stop it. Psh, come on, guys: Link managed to do it in only 3 (see Majora’s Mask)! Again, these are just my thoughts on the demo. The full game may very well address some of my annoyances.
1/9/14: Setting Up a Wii U, & Wind Waker HD
With the help of gift cards I’d received as holiday gifts, my last major purchase of 2013 was a Wii U. This wasn’t an impulse buy: I had much of the price already covered and had been considering buying a Wii U since its release. (I’ve believed in the console from the beginning but other expenses kept pulling me further away from the purchase.)
It was “off-TV” play that appealed most (being able to play the game on the GamePad only, away from the TV), combined with the fact it will play the Nintendo franchises I love as well as many of the third-party games I would typically buy for my PS3 (with off-screen play included on many Of those titles). I could have simply purchased a Playstation Vita for (some) cross-save compatibility with my PS3, or a Vita & a PS4 for off-screen play via the Vita, however, a Vita + PS3 meant not having access to Nintendo games and GamePad integration (which some Wii U games use very well), and a Vita + PS4 meant the same thing with the added problem of having to pay a lot more money that I’m not yet ready to spend. So I went with the Wii U, and I’m happy with that decision so far.
I bought the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD Wii U bundle. Wind Waker comes as a digital download, and I was worried the download time would be too much of a delay in my being able to actually play a game on the system, but it downloaded surprisingly quickly—especially when compared to a Playstation Network download. This is partly due to the size of the game (2+ gb, as opposed to PSN’s approximately 5–20 gb full games) and Nintendo’s network (which has less active users at the moment). I didn’t know it yet, but I could have downloaded it with the system off. Instead, I left the download status bar screen on the Wii U GamePad and checked on it here and there until it was done. Had I shut the system off, what’s normally a red “off” light would have been yellow to indicate it was downloading or updating in the background.
I should backtrack, though; before I downloaded Wind Waker I had to go through the mandatory new console setup: this included putting in my wifi network password, setting up a Mii to go with my user login, and doing a system update before it was allowed to go online. (In retrospect, I like that last bit since it ensures you are fully updated before you do anything besides play a disc-based game. This is good because early instances of people transferring their Wii data to their Wii U caused some problems—sometimes irreversible—and being fully updated ensures that whatever bug fixes that are available are also fixed on your system.) I was able to transfer my Mii from my 3DS (though you could always create a temporary Mii and link a different Mii to your account later) and, after the system update, link my account to the NintendoID I had recently created for my 3DS.
It was all pretty easy.
The GamePad controller turned out to be much more comfortable than I’d imagined. It’s lighter than an iPad (probably because the actual processing power is happening on the console itself), has a rechargeable battery (something the Wii never included on controllers by default), and functions much the way you would expect an iPad Mini with a controller attachment to function. In many ways it feels like an enhanced DS, and in my opinion, that’s why it works. It’s a way of playing—moving your attention between two screens—that many current Nintendo fans are familiar with via the DS and 3DS, so bringing that same idea to a more powerful at-home console just makes sense. Plus, the ability to send many games to the GamePad screen so you can play in another room, away from the TV, is a sweet enhancement. But I digress.
You can add friends to your friends list, post screenshots to Miiverse (Nintendo’s GameFAQS-lite-style per-game forum), access an Opera-based browser that moves pretty quickly, and visit the eShop all via the home screen. (For those who have never used a Wii U or 3DS: the home screen is a system menu that suspends the game you’re playing and allows you to quit out of it or access certain other apps that can run at the same time.)
And all this was fine and expected—I’d done my research; I’d used a friend’s system a couple of times. But it wasn’t until I loaded Wind Waker HD that I realized just how much I’m going to enjoy the Wii U. I’d played Wind Waker on GameCube, and it became one of my top Zelda games, but I’d never replayed it. The game is the right balance of story, humor, and exploration, and the HD version improves on it: it looks incredible, and the menus have been relegated to the GamePad screen so you don’t have to pause and cycle through the once-clunky menus to find the item or song notes you want to play. You can still pause to check those things (and you need to if you’re playing on the GamePad instead of the TV), but you can also switch items on the fly or leave your map open for an easy glance down to the GamePad if you need to get your bearings. You can also aim your items using the accelerometer in the GamePad—much like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword allowed—though if you don’t orient the GamePad properly before selecting the item, your aim can get massively screwy.
I won’t go into detail about the game’s charm, vivid color scheme, and once-controversial art design—it’s all been talked about to death—but I will say that the game is even better than I remember, and I’m glad Nintendo brought the game back into circulation for players who have never experienced it.
I also played a few demos: ZombiU makes good use of the GamePad by integrating it as a device your character also has. It includes a live, digital map, lets you organize your inventory, and you can hold it up and move it around to scan the in-game environment. The Sonic Lost World demo was kind of fun, but it mostly felt like a stiffer Super Mario Galaxy. The GamePad integration seemed minimal from what the demo showed, though it does let you play off-screen and your progress carries over to the main game (I love when demos work that way).
All in all, I’m happy with my Wii U purchase and I can’t wait to play highly rated games on it like Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, Rayman Legends, The Wonderful 101, and maybe Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (I haven’t decided which system to get it on). I’m excited for the gaming that lies ahead.
Fire Emblem Awakening Demo Impressions
The next game in the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem Awakening, launches on the 3DS on February 4, 2013 in the U.S. While we wait, Nintendo has released a demo (available on the eShop), containing two short battles, some dialogue, and a few cut scenes. I’ve never played a game in the series, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to give it a try.
The Awakening demo begins with a young man named Robin (the woman is not available in the demo) being found in a Ylissean field by a trio of armored shepherds: Chrom, Lissie, and Frederick. Robin soon realizes that he knows Chrom’s name but not his own, and slowly remembers bits about himself. Like many great RPGs’ main character, Robin is suffering from amnesia, but when a nearby village is attacked he quickly remembers that he can both size up the enemy by eye and command magic. Chrom is a swordsman, Frederick is a horsed lancer, and Chrom’s sister, Lissie, is a healer.
The demo’s battles are tutorials that show off the fluidity of Awakening’s battle flow. While the dialog scenes take place in detailed locations with fully-rendered characters on a 3D plane, the battlefield resembles a 16-bit SRPG overhead view, continuing the tradition of other Fire Emblem games before it. You’ll move each character a limited number of squares and attack an enemy, use an item, or wait. When attacking, you can cycle through a character’s weapons to select the weapon or spell with the best reach, highest chance of hitting the target, or doing the most damage. When any character engages in an attack, the view zooms into the map and takes you to a fully-rendered scene in which the attack takes place. The graphics here greatly resembles Super Smash Bros. Melee, and transitions smoothly without pause. During the 3D attack scenes, the action can be paused or fast forwarded, and the camera can be changed even to a first person view. This is probably fun during fights with bigger, badder enemies, as you can pause, go into first person mode, and look around where you stand. Attacking while another ally is on an adjacent map square boosts the attacker’s stats and shows both party members in the attack cinematic. Once the attack is over, experience is given out and the view zooms back to the 16-bit map.
The demo also shows off fully-voiced, 3D anime-style cutscenes. These scenes are gorgeous, and give us another way to enjoy pivotal action sequences.
This was a well put-together demo, and it showcases the personality of the characters, the smooth transition between the SRPG battle map and on-the-ground attack scenes, and the fantastic anime-style cutscenes in between. Fire Emblem Awakening sure looks like it’s the total package, and I can’t wait to play the full game.