Tag Archives: Games

Pop Thoughts: Big Hollywood and the War on Independent Journalism (Part Two)

This entry will be significantly shorter than my last ramble but I intend to keep this topic alive because I feel it is important.  If we hope to maintain an open and honest media, even if it is a blog that is a barely-trodden corridor of the city-sized labyrinth of Internet rags, we have to get the word out whenever we feel there is some sort of system in place that exists to handicap or even eliminate our ability to share our own thoughts on a product released by a major media corporation.

A long-time studio tactic that has been called into scrutiny more and more of late is the review embargo.  A review embargo is a prohibition on the early release of reviews and detailed commentary before a certain specified date after early screenings or pre-release copies of a product are made available to critics.  These individuals are usually your standard mainstream newspaper critic but their ranks also encompass a rollcall of columnists from other “trusted” sources.  Often coming with a written agreement to the studio’s terms and even the occasional non-disclosure agreement, these embargoes are almost always a red flag for me.

While I often prefer to avoid citing any corporate-fed media source, I think critic Marshall Fine said it best on the Huffington Post; “It’s all about controlling information — and bad word of mouth.  This kind of embargo is almost never associated with a movie which is expected to be a critical hit. (source)”  I think this pretty much hits the proverbial nail on the head.  If a movie or game is expected to rock everyone’s world, why keep them out of the loop as long as possible?  Sometimes these review embargoes can be in place up to as late as the Wednesday before the release of a film, intentionally buried in the middle of the workweek.

I stated in my previous diatribe (for lack of a better word) that as products become more expensive, it becomes more necessary to hide or silence any negative press for as long as possible to get the cash of early adopters and opening weekend addicts who want to beat the barrage of inconsiderate spoilers that will inevitably flood the Web by Saturday evening.  However, I believe this tactic is starting to lose its effectiveness.  Consumers are growing more and more savvy to the biases and manipulations of major media sources and are less tolerant than ever of being conned into buying a product that is knowingly-bad, the flaws of which being intentionally hid from them in the hopes that they will spend first and ask questions later.

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Pop Thoughts: Big Hollywood and the War on Independent Journalism (Part One)

Before my rant begins, let me be clear by stating I, in-no-way, consider myself a “professional journalist”.  In fact, I am merely a journalist in the most literal sense of the world in that I am a “person who writes” as an entirely independent commentator and reviewer.  I am more of a “hobbyist journalist” than a paid contributor or a critic contracted to any major media outlet.  To be entirely honest, I will never consider taking such a job without the express condition that I will be absolutely free to offer my own opinion on any product regardless of what others may feel about it.  So, with that capricious disclaimer out of the way, let me express to you why I am so pissed off at, sick of, and downright appalled by the major media both online and in the dying legacy sources…

When I was a kid in the 80’s and 90’s, even at a very young age, I adored watching Siskel & Ebert At the Movies.  They were my first exploration into the world of film criticism and gave me a stronger perspective of how film works on us; How movies should and do affect the audience and how these effects influence our attitudes towards popular culture at large.  Have no illusions, no matter how objective a critic may claim to be, we all have biases that manifest in one form or another.  Take myself, for instance: I really dislike (and often despise) how CGI has affected storytelling in movies and the filmmaking process as a whole.  I find it funny that movies like Avatar and the recent Star Wars movies actually look like video games and, as if it were some Freudian expression, we then get a movie in which Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage actually battle giant video game characters from the 80’s (regardless of the quality of that film).  That bias does subconsciously affect both my suspension of disbelief and my subjective reaction to special effects as they happen on screen.  My brain processes an 80’s action flick with a real exploding car differently than a massive CGI monstrosity oozing across a screen.  So, when I see most CG special effects I tend to be put off of them and it does change my interpretation of the qualities of the film I am watching.

So, given that I will expect all critics to express their own biases in any report or review they scribe for any site out there.  Even things like political leanings may change one’s interpretation of the content of any media, which is fine as long as these personal determinations are clear to the reader/watcher in some context.  However, where I draw the line is when a reviewer expressly defines to the audience how they should feel about something.  I’m sure I have exercised this fallacy in the past at some point, possibly even recently, and I do appreciate being called out for it whenever possible.  It is important to avoid cognitive dissonance in general, but when you are trying to convey feelings and reactions to media, as trivial as that media may be, if you are unable to provide some objective observation without skewing things to a bent, the factual information provided about the film (basic plot, names of actors, locations, etc.) that may prove useful to the reader or watcher becomes overshadowed with their implicit biases that fire subconsciously during the consumption of said review.

In the past year, we have seen more and more reviews that rely solely on identity politics as qualitative variables to determine the value of a product.  It’s important to accept that all films, video games, TV shows, comic books, and novels are just that: products.  The studios releasing a film do not care about how their product makes you feel, they only want your money.  That’s their job.  Art is subjective and it does act on us whether we want it to or not or even realize it.  This is now apparently being used by major studios and the media to manipulate and even attack potential consumers based solely on their reactions and opinions on something as minuscule in value as a movie trailer.

I hate to say it, but I can’t help but feel like media outlets are using some manipulation tactics to drum up grassroots support for products before their release.  I can’t be certain that is the motivation, but that is certainly happening.  I would say, if you have a movie with a message, that’s fine.  However, a movie that should be accessible, enjoyable and just be entertaining like Ghostbusters or Black Panther being used as a marketing gimmick for studios is not uncommon, but their being brandished as some sort of weapon against potential consumers is unacceptable behavior by a major media company and I do feel this is going to backfire.  This may seem like a new trend, however, these promotional tactics have been used in the past to manipulate audiences into seeing movies.  Sensationalism sells and Hollywood knows it.  This goes back to horror films that were sold as “Banned in ‘x country’!” and “The movie your parents don’t want you to see!”  This isn’t a new tactic and consumers must be wise about how they are being marketed to.

The key to all pop culture is enjoyment.  For every truly awful film, there are fans (I know I have a few bad movies I like) and that’s okay.  It’s just important to remember that not everyone will always share your sentiments towards a particular movie, TV show or game.  This is not going to change in an age where subjective ideals reflected in various mediums are treated dogmatically or even as empirical truths.  So today, Hollywood and major media outlets have begun campaigns to lock out and outright attack independent reviewers for sharing their opinions.  This isn’t exactly a new trend, but it is absolutely obvious why it is being done.  With movies becoming more and more expensive to make, burnout for franchises like Star Wars and various superhero movies at an all-time high and fan cynicism hitting new depths, studios have an incentive to make their movie appear as promising as possible.  If emotional manipulation of consumers is what it will take, then dammit, they’ll do just that.

There is an active campaign by Hollywood to discredit and block reviewers who aren’t part of the mainstream press.  The reasons for this are not entirely transparent, but an obvious point could be they realize that independent pop culture journalists are not beholden to any major corporation or media outlet which shares corporate ownership of, or has some ad deal with, a studio or publisher.  As a result, there is less skin in the game when it comes to liking or disliking a movie, therefore their opinions are likely to be more honest.  If I’m not getting a check from Disney, I have no incentive to write a positive review of one of their films if I do not actually enjoy it.  The same goes for any form of media.  So, it behooves a major corporation to be methodical in how they deal with negative reviews.  For instance, a Rotten Tomatoes score can be called a “snapshot” into the quality of a movie, but it in no way actually provides a sound rating of what critics thought of the movie, only an average of critics who liked or disliked the movie in a thumbs up or thumbs down sort of way.  A movie with a 75% doesn’t mean the movie got 3 out of 4 stars, it only means 75% of critics who reviewed the movie liked it.  It’s also important to note that the site deceptively divides reviews based on “trusted” critics versus everyone else.  As a result, it isn’t uncommon to see a dramatic dichotomy between fans’ and journalists’ respective scores, especially in the case of projects with a lot of money on the line.

Because of this, we are starting to see fan ratings of movies become more and more denigrated and with that so are the independent reviewers who just write a quick blurb on IMDB or run their own blog.  The “fans do not matter” mantra that we know Hollywood has held up for decades has never rung truer.  In the end, most of these big budget movies will make more money on merchandising than overall ticket sales anyway, especially in the case of major brands like Marvel.  It’s doubtful a producer is going to scoff at a bad review of a mediocre MCU flick like Thor: Ragnarok, instead they’ll laugh their brand licensing all the way to the bank.  They already have your money, they certainly do not have to care if you liked it or not.  This is why fans’ scores are becoming more and more important on websites.  A reason a lot of sites are removing comment options and disabling ratings for advertised products is that fan ratings, comments and reviews work.  They are proven to have a significant impact the perception of a film and they do have a natural effect on the way people see the final product, even if it is in retrospect.  A person who liked The Last Jedi in the moment but disliked it more and more upon reflection (such as myself) is less likely to jump on the merchandising bandwagon for the long term, so it is essential that my views on such a product be kept hidden as best as possible to ensure maximum sales returns.

I know all of this may come off as a more than a little jaded but given these past few years of nonstop fan-shaming and vitriol coming from creators, actors, etc, towards detractors of various entertainment products who are merely sharing their own opinions, I do not think this is unwarranted.  I do not agree with every view put out there, but I also do not want anyone to feel like they should be afraid to offer that very view.  This concept that one is not allowed to have an opinion of a product because of entirely arbitrary or superficial reasons is asinine and unacceptable.  It’s time to start treating these little pieces of entertainment as they are, oft-nonsensical distractions that entertain at the moment.  If we allow our tastes to be tied to what major corporate outlets dictate, the public loses its autonomy, and in the end, our choices in what entertainment is out there for us.

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An Arbitrary List Of A Few of My Favorite Free-To-Play MMORPG’s

The MMORPG has come a long way since Ultima Online and Runescape.  Even though World of Warcraft continues to lead the genre, at the same time they have been steadily losing players since the release of Cataclysm in 2010 and I think a fair case for this is the rise of free-to-play alternatives.  I have made the argument before that any company who continues to charge a subscription fee to play MMO’s is doing so at their own risk.  Thus far it has worked for WoW as well as the excellent Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, but how long will this last?  Even games like Guild Wars 2, which has an up-front cost to buy the game but no subscription fee to play, are on the rise.  So, with that I decided to list some of my personal favorite free-to-play games.  This is somewhat of an impromptu article but this is something that has been on my mind as we are starting to see a massive resurgence of single-player experiences dominate the gaming landscape as well as an overwhelming portion of the online market shifted towards competitive-focused MOBA’s like League of Legends and arena shooters like Overwatch.

So, without further ado, let’s begin:

TERA

Launching as a subscription title, TERA attempted to break new ground by focusing on fast, real-time action combat that centered primarily around engaging giant beasts.  The world is populated by mobs of monsters and is designed to pit you against little, regular enemies that you can easily dispatch in a few seconds of hacking and slashing as set dressing for the fights that really count.  The gameplay for TERA still holds up even against arguably superior action MMO experiences like Guild Wars 2 as TERA’s high level of customization rivals even the most sophisticated MMO’s out there.  The only downside to TERA , really, is its player base.  It is a generally low-population game, so finding players who are willing to regularly engage in skirmishes with the tougher monsters in the game can be difficult, especially around the mid levels.  Still, Bluehole Studio and En Masse have done a good job of keeping the content coming, with new classes being released and additional expanded content added with some regularity.  Add to the mix a dynamic and fairly complex and rewarding crafting system and some occasionally-entertaining story missions and you have a fun, fast and often challenging MMO for more experienced action RPG players.

 

Wildstar

Speaking of hard….  Wildstar may be the toughest MMORPG on the market right now.  I say this as someone who has played several of the classes and gone through much of the first half of the game (but need to get deeper into things, to be honest).  It’s complexity comes in the form of the combat, which focuses on abilties that require thought, timing and precision.  Unlike a lot of titles where you can simply spam your strongest skills, many of Wildstar’s class skills are utilitarian in nature, forcing you to save them for the right moment and think your way through engagements.  Wildstar also puts a lot of focus on exploration of the environment, themed on exploring an unknown planet, you can choose from specific jobs that range from documenting life forms to navigating the rougher terrain to scout out new settlements.  It’s a deep game with a lot of things to do, the only downside being its limited class customization.

 

Dungeon Fighter Online

DFO is probably the simplest game on my list in terms of design, but it’s also one of the most addictive.  Put simply, it’s an online equivalent to an old-school beat-em-up a la Final Fight or Streets of Rage.  Instanced levels with boss fights at the end are a staple for many of the lower-budget MMO’s out there but DFO handles things well by being fast and fun.  Classes are varied and have a fair degree of customization considering how simple the combat is.  The only downsides are the fact that its age is starting to show compared to some other games, and the implementation of “charges” that limit your playtime unless you are either willing for dungeon charges to replenish over time or are also willing to use or buy items to replenish them from special drops or the cash shop.

Eden Eternal

I honestly have not picked up Eden Eternal in a while.  I had thought about getting back into it, too.  This is a really fun MMORPG with a surprising turn that sets it apart in the genre.  It allows you to create a character and freely change classes as you see fit.  Think of it as something akin to a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game that uses a job system.  You can change your classes, which change the equipment loadout, skills and function of your character and as you level individual classes and combinations thereof up, you unlike more complex and unique classes down the road.  The ability to switch jobs makes Eden Eternal pretty interesting as it motivates you to be a little more experimental in your approach.  The downside to Eden Eternal is the gameplay is very dated.  Eden Eternal launched in 2011 and it feels like it.  While I did enjoy it the last time I played it, I’m sure I’d find some fault with it at this point just on these grounds, but that will remain to be seen.  That said, I have fond memories of Eden Eternal and for its time, I would say it was a pretty smart take on the classic MMORPG formula.

 

Dragon Saga

Yet another action MMORPG, Dragon Saga puts you in control of a chibi anime hero as you traverse a vivid 3D world fighting through hordes of enemies and chaining together ridiculous combos for bonus loot.  Dragon Saga is as simple as it gets with its beat-em-up style that is similar to DFO’s only with a little more complexity in the classes.  However, unlike DFO, Dragon Saga is not entirely locked to a HUB town connected to instanced dungeons.  Instead, there are field areas populated by other players and within those are special dungeons you can choose to enter for quests and loot.  The quests are pretty standard “kill 10 wolves” type-missions but the fast, addictive combat helps to elevate much of the repetition.  Dragon Saga is also a good “starter MMORPG” for those gamers who are intimidated by the vastness and complexity of many of the prominent games in the genre as it focuses primarily on fast, accessible action gameplay opposed to dense character micromanagement.

 

Rift

When World of Warcraft launched it was a demarcation point of sorts.  It’s difficult to understate what WoW did for gaming as a whole.  That said, I believe it has been on a steady decline of quality over the past eight years.  I do not want to call it a “bad game” since I haven’t played it since a few patches into Cataclysm, but I think it’s safe to say it has been greatly simplified to the point of having little to know feeling of control over the development of your character.  Controversial as this opinion may be to some, I feel the changes made to WoW around February of 2011 were the beginning of the end.  The game still does well but it appears to be in many cases that the players aren’t so much sticking around as they are being replaced by a younger crowd.  Enter Rift….

Rift is my favorite MMORPG of all time.  It’s not everyone’s first choice for sure, but I feel it being effectively a clone of WoW, captures everything Blizzard had done so right for 5+ years of running the dominant MMORPG while expanding upon those ideas and not taking countless steps to undermined the flow of the game and progress of long-time late-game players.  Rift’s world is nowhere near as large as WoW’s, but the game is primarily focused on large-scale public events, bringing players together as zones are overtaken by hundreds or even thousands of enemies, forcing players to defend the towns and hub areas of the map while closing the Rifts from which they pour and clearing a series of quests to spawn a massive raid boss and saving the day… at least for a time.  On top of the scale of these events is the fact that Trion Worlds does not make you wait until you are at the level cap to be able to participate in these events.  Rather, from the starting areas you have an opportunity to take down big raid bosses for special rewards, joining public groups to clear Rifts and exploring challenging and unique dungeons.  Lastly, Rift only has 5 classes, but each of these classes has a list of sub-classes of which you can choose 3, and each sub-class may play very different from another.  As a result you may have ranged-caster-warriors, melee tank mages and rogues that operate as healers.  It allows you to experiment with ideas and explore new ways to play your classes.  It also allows you to break up the monotony of churning out the same DPS rotation over and over again to take down a boss.

If you are like me and have grown disenfranchised by World of Warcraft and want to share in a similar gameplay experience with depth and engaging character progression, I give Rift my strongest recommendation.

Please share and let me know what your favorite F2P MMORPG’s are.  Maybe they’re some I haven’t played!

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Cuphead (2017) Review

For a few years now we have been in a sort of Renaissance for classic-style video games.  New games are being released mixing new technology and trends with old-school gameplay and design.  In many cases, this has been great.  Hands-down the most well-known occurrence of this trend is Shovel Knight, an excellent, stylish platformer that feels timeless.  Cuphead is the next major entry in this time of rebirth and rediscovery, blending traditional platforming elements with sleek HD graphics.

Immediately upon picking Cuphead up the amazing visuals stand out.  Resembling a 1930’s cartoon with fluid animations and beautiful watercolor backgrounds, It creates an atmosphere that is unlike anything I have ever seen in a video game.  Visually, everything is just perfect.  It revives a style and theme that we just haven’t really seen in video games and it is a welcome change from rough-edge soldiers and anime chicks.  Every one of the unique bosses are interesting and well-thought-out, having their own design and individual twists.  Nowhere in the game are there reused enemies from level-to-level.  Everything is original and even the many references to famous enemies from classic games put a unique spin on their design.

The gameplay is tight, responsive and as close to perfect as you can get with a platformer of this type.  The closest game I can compare the feel to is Mega Man X.  Cuphead has all of the elements that worked for that masterpiece so well but tailored to fit its own hyperkinetic world that rivals that of the famous Maverick Hunter in design and variety.  It’s a refreshingly-skillful work of game design from a crew of relative newcomers to the titanic industry.

Now, one point of controversy surrounding Cuphead is its divisive difficulty.  This game is not easy; It’s not casual; It’s not for the faint of heart.  Cuphead will test your skills to an extreme degree.  There are three major components to this level of challenge from my observation: First is the progressively-chaotic boss fights that add more and more challenging components as the battles go on, leading up to an enrage phase that acts as a final gauntlet for each fight.  Then there is the rule that you have to beat each boss on the Regular difficulty to progress the game, with the optional Simple mode being nothing more than basic practice.  Then there’s the RNG, which deserves a little paragraph of its own…

The one and only complaint I have with Cuphead is the RNG.  For those who do not already know, RNG is a common speedrunning term meaning “Random Number Generator”, and references randomized events in games.  For instance, the variable damage your attacks can do in an RPG, or the chance of getting a solid gun drop in Destiny 2.  In Cuphead’s case, RNG comes in the form of enemy positioning and movement.  This manifests more commonly in the non-boss gauntlet levels, but it’s there across the board nonetheless.  It is a common problem in many games and can make parts of Cuphead frustrating.  However, it is in many areas manipulatable with a little skill and so far I have only found a few places where the RNG is particularly egregious (“Perilous Piers” being a gruesome example).  Randomized enemy placement and attack timing seems to be overwhelming at times and appears more manageable if you simply rush through the gauntlet stages, never really stopping to fight.

The bosses are where Cuphead shine and they are the focus for the game.  Most of the stages involve interacting with an animated feature on the explorable world map, the initiation of which takes you straight into a battle with one of the games many creative big-bads.  Most bosses follow a traditional video game 3-phase battle with a few exceptions.  The first few phases are a warmup to the enrage, where the boss changes form and the fight gets more frenetic.  In a few cases, the enrage phase changes the dynamics of the fight entirely from the previous phases.

There is a little bit of progression in the form of purchasable upgrades in the form of weapons, abilities and charms.  These determine which of the two weapons from your loadout that you can carry as well as the effects of your dash, your ultimate attack and one other optional boost that you can equip.  These upgrades are purchased with coins obtained in the non-boss levels.  It is possible to play through Cuphead never getting a single coin or a single upgrade.

In closing, Cuphead is a masterpiece of modern gaming.  Critical reviews claiming it’s “too hard to be fun” are missing a key factor: This game is not for everyone.  This is really an appeal to  nostalgia for the much-harder 16-bit era of gaming with its pace and design and older players are more likely to get the majority of enjoyment from this title.  Do not be fooled by its cartoonish aesthetic, Cuphead is brutal and will require every bit of gaming skill and acumen gamers such as myself have accumulated over the past few decades.  Cuphead is fun, challenging and worth the miniscule $20 price tag.  This is a game that I predict will be ageless and just may become the next big speedrunning game, so members and fans of the running community can look forward to thousands of cumulative hours across many Twitch channels of frustrated gaming veterans cheering upon finally beating their PB!

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A Little-Late Game Review: Ever Oasis (3DS)

Ever Oasis has been out for a few months but I’m just getting a chance to bite my teeth into it.  A cursory glance of the game implies it is a cutesy anime-themed ARPG/dungeon crawler, and while this isn’t untrue, after logging some time into it I can assure you that there is a surprising level of depth in Ever Oasis.  It is its unique elements that elevate it above your typical dungeon-crawler.  In many ways, I could say it’s similar to Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (which, if you haven’t played, you really should).

The world of EO is a vast desert.  Greenery is scarce and the only respite comes from a Seedling meeting with a Water Spirit to form an Oasis.  After escaping your brother’s oasis during a battle with a dark, corrupting force, you wander until you meet a lonely, tired water spirit named Esna who is waiting patiently for a Seedling to join her to create a great oasis.  You arrive, a Seedling and a water spirit are united and together create the Oasis!  

The goal is to grow your Oasis by increasing its population.  Each day there is a chance a visitor will arrive and if you do quests for them, they will become permanent residents, expanding your empire.  Some residents will allow you to open Bloom Booths, which is a shop from which that resident can sell specialty items and earn money for the settlement.  Other residents provide essential services like party management and assigning tasks to idle villagers.  As you add more Bloom Booths, NPC’s called Noots will arrive.  They exist to spend money which returns to you in the game’s currency called Dew, which you use to buy items, upgrade equipment and expand your Oasis.  As your population grows, your Oasis levels up, opening more building room for new booths, thereby further accelerating its expansion.

So, how do you keep your booths in business?  You fight things, of course!  The action gameplay of Ever Oasis is not particularly-innovative, but it is effective.  Monsters and farming spots in the maps outside your Oasis give you items used to craft gear and help booth vendors restock so they can keep the revenue coming and the more the inventory stays full, the happier your villagers are.  You can bring up to two residents with you and you can switch between them on the fly in and out of combat.  The partner AI is surprisingly good!  The characters you aren’t controlling are generally pretty smart and do a good job of staying out of danger…  Most of the time.  Some residents even have special skills like mining and digging (just to name a few) and bringing these guys along can help grow your inventory by finding more items and even sometimes accessing previously-unreachable spots.  These residents will also offer quests to delve into caves and dungeons and these can often lead to some pretty great Legend of Zelda-style boss fights.

There is a crafting system as well but it is fairly rudimentary.  You just need to get the required number of the specified items, spend the dew and boom, you can upgrade your gear!  But the item upgrades are not varied and new recipes roll in very slowly for much of the game as crafting is not the primary focus; the primary goal here is to grow your Oasis by doing quests, progressing the story and helping your villagers out to keep things sunny!  

I barely scratched the surface of Ever Oasis in this review.  I was honestly surprised by the depth and variety here and I would say that fans of action RPG’s should give this game a shot.  It isn’t going to revolutionize the genre, but it is a fun diversion for a genre that has gotten pretty dark in tone over the last few years.  If you have kids with a 3DS and would like to get them into RPG’s as well, this is a good choice for them.  It’s nice, PG-rated fun with none of the elements being too difficult for younger gamers to get into.  The bar for action RPG’s was set pretty high this year by Horizon: Zero Dawn, but for a lighter, simpler game with some old-school flavor, I say Ever Oasis is a solid alternative for players wanting a softer touch.

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Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) Review

I would like to open this review with a couple points of honestly to reveal and possibly explain any biases I may have towards this game.  First, Super Metroid is my favorite video game of all time; hands-down.  Secondly, I did not play Metroid 2: The Return of Samus in the 90’s.  I had a GameBoy but I did not invest a lot into it.  I was a console gamer pretty exclusively into my early teens.  So, I do not have any nostalgia bias about the original Metroid 2, but I do have a tendency to hold Metroid games to a pretty high standard.  That said, I will try to be as objective as possible here.

I would start by saying that Samus Returns is a very good Metroid game.  The 2/2.5D Metroidvania subgenre has been making a triumphant and successful comeback in recent years with great titles like Axiom Verge, Valdis Story and Ori and the Blind Forest, so I am so glad to see a classic franchise get the treatment it justly deserves.  It plays well, looks fantastic and has that isolated, creepy feeling the franchise is famous for.  As Samus Aran, you navigate the claustrophobic catacombs of an infested planet in search of 40 remaining Metroids in the hopes of eradicating the species for the sake of the galaxy.  The goal is to find the statue that controls the acid flooding the world and locate the requisite number of target parasites in that area to return and lower the dangerous liquid so you can proceed deeper and deeper into the planet.

The problem with a remake like this one is you not only have to live up to the original to grab the nostalgic gamers, but you have to reel in younger gamers and players like myself who did not invest in this title as a kid.  So, now you have possibly two full generations of gamers who did not have the opportunity to enjoy Metroid II when it landed.  What Nintendo needed to do was stay true to the ideas of the original while modernizing the series.  The risk of this sort of remake is that there is always someone who is not going to like a change here or there, so I believe keeping the concept of the original game alive while heavily modifying the world was a wise choice.

In terms of gameplay, at least for me, Samus Returns hits a few low points.  First, the game is a lot quicker than I’m used to, a subjective complaint, I know, but I do believe it affects the flow of the game.  However, aside from the way the movement feels here, the thing that I think keeps this from being a modern classic is the directional aiming.  Having to lock in place with the triggers to aim and use missiles is dramatically slow.  Differences in the controller layouts from older platforms made this somewhat necessary, but having to stop in place, aim with the stick, then fire to land your hits really kills the pace.  Also, the constant need to counter with the uppercut to knock enemies into a weakened state is fun at first, but gets old really fast.  It is one of those things where it is very cool to do, but because you are constantly performing this same, easy-to-land counter on enemies throughout the game, it kind of becomes repetitive and boring.

The final major complaint are the battles with the metroids in the game.  As you work your way through the labyrinthine tunnels you will encounter dozens of these guys, so it is necessary to keep things fresh!  Well… They don’t.  With a few exceptions where you fight tougher, boss forms of the metroids, the battles are identical, the only changes being either the metroid having an elemental buff affecting its abilities and the layout of the battle arena.  Some fights will have you fighting the target only to have it flee and head to another room nearby designated for such a fight.  The downside being these fights are pretty much the same over and over with only a few exceptions.  It would not be feasible to have 40 individual boss battles that are entirely different from each other but the solution is to at least add more major targets instead of keeping things so bare-bones.

In terms of aesthetics, it’s a very good-looking 2.5 action platformer and the 3D effects are some of the best on the platform.  The models are well-animated and the world is varied in its themes and designs.  The soundtrack is an excellent composition of new music and remakes of classic themes from titles past.  They are faithful to the original while having a fresh, modern feel.  In this respect the soundtrack is comparable to that of DuckTales: Remastered.  

In all, I think Metroid: Samus Returns is a quality return to the classic Metroid model with a few flaws that may keep it from being a long-lasting classic.  I think if there was a little more emphasis on variety, this would have been great, but it rests at a solid “good” for me.  It is probably not a game that will go down for many gamers as a masterpiece.  I wouldn’t be discouraged by this, though.  There is always room for improvement and if additional content were added, and some things about the game were updated, it could be even better in the future.  However, only time will tell.

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TGS 2017: A Quick Reaction to Sony’s Press Conference

While watching the Sony conference at Tokyo Games Show 2017, I feel like I was bombarded with a lot of information, but I must admit, I was rather underwhelmed.  The Playstation Experience 2017 will certainly bring with it some huge announcements, but Sony showed a great deal of reservation for this event and it shows.  It actually kind of makes me a little nervous.  

Naturally, the headlining title is Monster Hunter World, a game that is going to make Capcom and, by extension, Sony, a very large amount of money.  That’s good, because I like Monster Hunter and honestly look forward to the game when it launches this January.  Other titles got a mention here and there, including a few I have a feeling will not come out in the US, including A Certain Magical Cyber Trooper (based on the popular anime series) and Fist of the North Star.

About a third of the event was dedicated to Playstation VR, including a segment for immersive concert viewing via the PSVR online stream for an orchestral concert performance of selections from popular JapanStudio classics like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.  The remainder of the information was loose hints and clips of games we already knew about.

The entire event felt to me like I was rewatching a press conference from late 2016.  It did not really feel like news; rather, it felt like somebody was reading me my own grocery list after I already got back from the store and took my groceries into my house.  With a few exceptions, there were no announcements during this press conference that really took me by surprise or even got me all that excited.

Such a shame, but there is obviously more to see from TGS 2017, though, so I will keep posting as I get news.  Here’s hoping the rest of the event makes up for this surprise-free anti-spectacle. 

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Destiny 2 Review

Full disclosure before I begin: I really enjoyed Destiny when it came out and logged quite a bit of time in it, so needless to say I was quite excited about this much-hyped sequel.  I didn’t expect, however, to find so much to like about this game.  I wanted to at least finish the campaign and get a taste of the end game content before I really wrote this review as well, to reduce my chances of misrepresenting anything.  That said, I can recognize why it wouldn’t be for everyone and this is definitely going to end up being a successful-but-niche game after the initial fervor dies down.

After the Traveler is captured by an intergalactic Genghis Khan named Gaul, all of the Guardians, revered for their strength, lose the Light, the source of all of their powers.  It is up to you (and the millions of other players), to recover the Light, turn the tables of the struggle against the warlord and return the Traveler to its greatness, restoring the Light in the guardians and saving Earth.  It’s a pretty epic story, albeit cliched, but Gaul is an excellent villain, and the final battle with the vile menace is arduous and menacing.

Destiny 2 is built much like its predecessor with a few changes.  You have a short list of planets, each of which is its own open world, where you can travel, explore and take part in various public events and challenges but there only a few goals in the end: Complete the short-but-great campaign (including a stellar final series of levels that rank among the best of any FPS), grind public events and side missions to get gear upgrades and power yourself up for more difficult missions, prepare for Strikes to maximize your growth and face exciting bosses, then lead up to Raids which remain the ultimate challenge.  It is all built around a quality gear system that tiers to your level.  Rarely will you ever get a drop that is far too weak to be worth at least trying out, with the only discards generally being weapon types you do not want or old gear you’ve outgrown.  It never feels like loot drops are a waste and while everything is very randomized, you can use mods that drop regularly to alter gear to your playstyle.  

Destiny 2 plays a lot like your typical FPS, though a bit faster, and the ability to use various skills speeds things up significantly.  Different class perks also change the approach to the game.  I invested most of my efforts so far into the Titan, a resilient class built for close-quarters combat with numerous foes.  Essentially, the Titan is Destiny 2’s tank class.  Each of the three classes (Titan, Warlock and Hunter) have 3 subclasses, and each of those subclasses have two passive skill sets that affect how that subclass functions in combat.  Subclasses also allow for a selection of 3 types of grenades and the differing functions of the double-jump.  You can freely swap between each subclass and skillset, grenade and jump type you’ve unlocked at any time, even mid-combat.

Outside of that, it’s standard loot-based-FPS fare.  Think Borderlands, only more frenetic.  Public events place you right in the center of onslaughts of enemies, boss battles take place in massive arenas that fill with enemies, open worlds are slathered with randomized mobs, and everything is ready to ruin your day!  Optional missions allow for longer excursions with greater rewards and are often similar to story missions.

Once you defeat the villainous final boss, more content opens up for you, including giving the option to replay side missions for further rewards, take part in patrols (very short, random side missions that can be chained for easy loot), and take part in more public events to get medal drops that allow you to raise your reputation with the NPC from that area.

Destiny 2 looks great, but it isn’t going to blow your mind.  Comparing this to Far Cry, Just Cause, or a PS4 exclusive like Horizon: Zero Dawn, seems unfair as this is an online game and thusly some visuals may be throttled for performance (which so far for me has never taken a hit, or even so much as lagged).  Some areas of Destiny 2’s worlds are dark and the absence of a toggleable flashlight can make navigation in some areas difficult.  The open worlds themselves vary in aesthetic appeal as well.  For-instance, Earth’s overgrown, post-Apocalyptic wastes have a desolate feel to them, especially as you navigate further and further away from the starting section of the planet.  Titan is a series of cold steel and concrete platforms built outside of a massive arcology that is filled with lush greenery and a colorful mall that seems eerie in its abandoned nature, its holographic and neon signs still spinning on and flicker as though nothing has changed.  Nessus is filled with lush, bright-red fall greenery and giant rectangular pillars of marble that tower and shape the world.  Lastly, Io is a toxic wasteland of golden soil filled with dangerous radioactive liquid and dank, hazardous caves.

It is obvious a lot of care went into sections of these worlds, but some sections can feel like rehashes of each other, with a few map segments seeming as though they could be placed in other worlds with different textures and it wouldn’t matter at all.  This isn’t typically to the detriment of the game itself, but it does make the initial awe of the new world’s visuals lose its appeal quite quickly.  Sadly, these few planets are the only open worlds you can really explore and while they are somewhat large, it would have benefitted Destiny 2 to offer a little more variety in the areas themselves.

With each planet having its own theme, you can be assured that each area has its own story.  These plots are head up by a single NPC that represents that world who also provides commentary as you fight through the map but their constantly-repeated lines get very, very old.  In an obvious attempt to add some humorous banter to the grind to give it a little character, you can get “witty”, overwritten dialogue that may be occasionally funny at first but can wear on you making you reach for the volume controls for your TV after the story missions are complete.

That said, the voice cast is quite good, complete with an A-list of respected performers in the field including Nolan North of Uncharted fame, who is near-unrecognizable as your companion Ghost, Firefly’s Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres as two of the guardians who join you in the struggle against Gaul’s forces, and The Wire’s Lance Reddick as the righteous leader Commander Zavala.  The voice acting, when it isn’t grating with repetition, is very good and helps shape the tone of the game.

For most, Destiny 2 may slow as it ages due to its grindy nature.  There is variety in what you can do, but after just a few days of doing the same patrols, strikes and public events over and over, it can feel exhausting.  The push to level 20 goes by quickly enough, but then you have to very slowly raise your average gear rating by finding more and more valuable drops.  There are many ways to grind in the game, but if the repetition turns you off, there will be little for you after completing the campaign.  However, there are rewarding events that come to those willing to stick it out.

I would say Destiny 2 is a worthy sequel and it came out at a great time, preceding the onslaught of fall releases by a little over a month, giving players time to become invested in the online action.  It was smart to get it out to players before the barrage of online shooters and co-op action games that are right around the corner slam gamers with a near-insurmountable backlog.  Sadly, the PC version of this game is being pushed back to mid-October because of the contractual obligation of Bungie to release the game on consoles first.  This is unacceptable for me but if you are willing to wait, that version is coming as well, only expect a brutal framerate cap and throttled graphics to keep it from being too competitive to the console releases.  This is the tragic reality of today’s gaming.

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Game Deals – Picks for The Week of 09/06/2017

So, I hope to be able to do this pretty regularly.  I will be updating a (mostly) weekly list of game picks that are on sale for numerous platforms.  I will probably feature maybe five or six choices per week.  I will try to diversify my sources as well, so not all of these deals will be from Steam.  Let us begin…

NOTE: All prices are in USD and are subject to change.

Valkyria Revolution (PS4)

  $19.90 $39.99

Amazon
While Valkyria Revolution isn’t the best strategy RPG out there, it is a solid action RPG with strategy elements and a pretty solid evolution of the excellent Valkyria Chronicles.  The only downside I can find is the flux of difficulty between the weak cannon-fodder enemies and the excessively-tough bosses is quite jarring.  However, a quality upgrade system, deep character customization with unique skills and pretty fun gameplay makes this one worth a $20 price.

 


NieR:Automata (PC)

$38.99 $59.99
PC/Steam
A must-have for September is NieR:Automata, a smart and exciting anime action/adventure game from SquareEnix.  If you have not played this combination shooter/hack n’ slasher, you owe it to yourself to give it a play, especially with it being more than $20 off retail!

 

 


SNK Publisher Sale (PC)

Various prices
PC/Steam

For arcade gaming fans like myself, this sale is awesome. Featuring a bevy of excellent King of Fighters and Metal Slug games, it really is a who’s-who of NeoGeo arcade brilliance! I would also check out the fun SHOCK TROOPERS series as well as the competitive, split-screen shooter Twinkle Star Sprites (Yes! That name is for-real) that has rarely seen a US release so far.

 


Dark Souls Series (PS4)

Various prices
Playstation Store
If you like a little punishment, you can always bet on the quality Dark Souls games and Dark Souls II and III as well as DLC and special editions are all on sale this week on the Playstation Store. Get your download on and good luck on the Nameless King!

 

 


God Eater 2 (PS4)

$14.99 $59.99
Playstation Store
For fans of the popular Monster Hunter franchise, God Eater 2 is a welcome change of scenery maintaining many of the core elements of the classic kill-and-craft action.  Effectively, God Eater 2 is a Monster Hunter clone but post-apocalyptic and in a sci-fi setting.  It is quite good though, with interesting classes and skills and some pretty challenging fights right at the start of the game.

 

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A Little-Late Game Review: Euro Truck Simulator 2

The simulator genre is one that I have entirely avoided for some time.  There really was no particular reason for this choice of mine outside of the word “simulator” merely being in the title conjuring images of a cheap, poorly-made game that is more-or-less thrown together with ugly pre-made stock assets and the concept of driving a simulated bulldozer never really appealed to me anyway.  However, I did have one simulator in my Steam library: Euro Truck Simulator 2.  I acquired it from a Humble Bundle a while back and it was just sitting there idly; un-played, uninstalled, unappreciated.  It didn’t seem like a big deal but out of the blue I see it pop up on sale in the Steam store.  Clicking on it out of sheer morbid curiosity, I discover an “Overwhelmingly Positive” user rating, so that piqued my interest.  In smokey-eyed indifference I subtly mumble to myself, “Oh well… I own it.  I might as well try it.”  The download was quick and I jumped in.  After the tutorial I looked to the window from whence came sunlight what seemed like moments before, was then shocked to see the sky was black as EA CEO Andrew Wilson’s soul!

So, what happened to those hours?  A few trips to Munich.  A run to Mannheim.  The occasional fender-bender with indestructible Renault Clios… The usual.  I cannot explain how addictive this game is, or why; I can only tell you that I seem to get lost in thought these past few days, imagining what is next on my long-haul agenda!  You would think endless driving through highways and industrial parks would get boring, but this game does something to you!  Something…

First and foremost, this is a simulator, which means you are going to have to get used to the controls.  Fortunately, the game has pretty solid tutorial, multiple control types and a selection of difficulty levels with varying grades of demand and pressure for the player.  As you play there is a fair difficulty curve for deliveries and you can freely choose a quick run that will take about five minutes to a continent-spanning highway odyssey that could take multiple hours!  Fortunately, the game is merciful, allowing you to save mid-mission so you are not required to marathon a journey from Italy to Denmark in one sitting.  The short missions are great for variety, but where the early money really comes rolling in with the longer drives.  

In the longer trips you will also find much of the depth of the game.  Having to stop to refuel, sleep, and even getting repairs at a nearby town or city along the route can be a necessity for lengthy runs and getting to know the roads helps.  The game tiers the world for you as well, focusing a majority of the randomized deliveries available on cities you’ve already visited, with the occasional new destination.  Arriving at these new locations makes these cities appear more frequently, and thus, from these new places you get more distant deliveries spanning more countries.  The roads are vast and there are many routes you can take with stops along the way.  When you accept your delivery contract, you start at the distributor and a friendly GPS maps out the best route to the destination, however you are free to use pins to alter your route if you so choose, but be warned, all missions are timed and you get graded on your promptness and the condition of the products you are carrying.  If you meander or wander off the beaten path too much, you could miss out on rewards at the end of the delivery.  So, you may ask: What’s the point of the open world, then?  Well…

Since you start the game dirt-poor, all you can do is take contract jobs on pre-loaded trucks.  You are stuck doing what you are supposed to, following the rules.  However, once you save up enough funds from the do-boy missions, you can buy your own truck!  At this point, the open road is yours to explore.  The world is an open, massive landscape of thousands of kilometers of highways, back roads and cities to traverse!  Of course, even these open trips cost money.  You have to pay for gas, necessary maintenance, and take the time to rest.  Also, while you aren’t doing deliveries, you are not making money, which means you’re technically losing money, but fear not!  Euro Truck Simulator 2 has you covered there, too!

Not only can you freely drive to any city or town, park at a delivery site and pick up a new delivery mission on the spot, but once the money starts really rolling in you can buy additional garages from all over the continent and then hire more drivers as part of your company to generate yet more revenue.  Expansion is the goal and once you have a steady stream of income, you can further upgrade your garage, buy more trucks, hire more drivers and expand your trucking empire!  The world (continent) is your oyster!

Now, if you are fearful of the long drive getting too boring, the game thankfully scales down the open world so a trip length that reads as two-and-a-half hours will actually only take about 15 minutes.  This is method to help you get the most out of the game quickly, and to incentivize more  exploration.  Towns are truncated as well, focusing entirely on a small industrial section of each location and marking it on the map as you discover it.  This is great, too as it allows you to focus on getting in and out and back on the open road, just remember to obey the speed limit to avoid getting a costly ticket.  However, in town things slow down dramatically.  The rules of the road still apply so you have to wait at red lights, watch for traffic and carefully navigate narrow alleys.  This does give you the opportunity to view the city scenery, though.  Naturally, hitting the highways is an entirely different story with faster speed limits, many lanes to follow and a flow of traffic that does require some concentration, however cruise control helps you safely regulate your speed so you can focus on steering and occasionally enjoying the scenery.

The world is lush and beautiful, too.  A stunning effort was put into making the world in this game seem natural and lived-in.  Small cabins and hamlets scatter the backdrops of the freeway along the countryside, titanic mountains tower over the terrain in the Alps and the Pyrenees, rolling hills create an illusion of depth and wide open fields welcome the wandering eye.  Buildings of many types are situated along the way and it never really feels like the developers lazily just reused assets over and over.  It all just feels natural and realistic, and considering the sheer scale of this world, this is an astonishing achievement.  Add to this natural beauty the dark of night and the pouring of rain and you have one of the most convincing, immersive open worlds I have ever roamed in any game.  While it doesn’t have the polish or deliberate design of something like Farcry or Just Cause, built for pulling off the impossible, it does feel real and so far, I have not been bored of just looking at it as I drive.

There is so much depth in this game that it seems almost insurmountable.  The game tracks the stretches of road you’ve traveled, marking completion of the map, encouraging you to explore every square kilometer of its expansive world!  Inside towns, on your first visit, driving by dealerships and recruiting centers increases your list of possible employees and future truck purchases.  You can even upgrade and customize various mechanical and cosmetic features for both the exterior and interior of your truck from a pretty impressive selection of parts.  Overall, there is so much to see, do and collect in Euro Truck Simulator 2!  I would say it’s almost too much, but if that’s one complaint then that isn’t too bad now is it?  The only other complaint I would have is sometimes the AI of the other drivers on the road is a little… What’s the word..?  Stupid.  Sometimes they will come from behind and drive right into you, occasionally block traffic for no reason and, if you happen to have an unfortunate accident, other vehicles can become ‘stuck’, as if they are unable to determine what they should do.  In a few occasions this has caused me to get trapped in inescapable positions.  The fix for this is using the game’s roadside assistance option to send a tow truck, which will by default bring you to the nearest available service garage.

In all, I would call this one of the best driving games released in the past ten years.  If deep simulation is not your thing, you may get bored, but if you like the Skinner box of rewarding game design, Euro Truck Simulator 2 has you covered.  It isn’t perfect, but it is, in my experience, the closest thing you will find to exploring the open road in such a realistic and immersive fashion.

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