Category Archives: PlayStation Vita

I Am So Smart! S-M-R-T!

I can’t help but starting to feel that Picross 3D isn’t merely a second-stringer to be played when nothing else of importance is around. Whenever I decide to quickly solve a puzzle or maybe two, I suddenly find myself realizing how time has simply flown by. I’m no longer inclined to guess, and even if those initially oh-so-generous time limits suddenly feel uncomfortably strict, making me either go under or over them by a minute or two, the game is a logic rush like none other! After a whopping 24 hours, I’ve finally completed all Beginner and Easy challenges with three stars. Merely solving a puzzle is worth one, which is good enough to make progress, but the extra stars for not making any mistakes and staying within the time limit have – at least so far – been far to tempting to skip.

At this point, the game’s most rewarding feature is its pacing. I began with “heh, this is laughably simple” only to quickly run into “oh dear Lord, is this even solvable” and eventually “hoo boy, this sure takes time to solve.” Every now and then that one single cube needed to proceed does a stellar job hiding out of sight but on whole, relentless practice truly does make perfect. The geometry of any puzzle still occasionally allures me to mark and remove cubes that are right “for sure” but such seduction no longer works; I’m now all about numbers and logical deduction. The time limit is still nothing more than a needlessly stressful feature that mostly leads to stupid mistakes and a quick restart. Then again, the frequency of those mistakes seems to dwindle as I go, so perhaps such a virtual whip has a well-intentioned purpose after all. Then again, the 3DS sequel purportedly does away with time limits altogether, and it sounds like the best overhaul ever.

Whatever the case, I’m now totally into Picross 3D. After 144 puzzles solved, I’m (slightly worriedly) off to tackle the ones under the Normal category. This won’t end well.

In the meantime, the last few acquisitions of the first half of the year have finally arrived to wait for their turn to shine come summer vacation (or perhaps retirement) days. Despite all the snide remarks that PlayStation Vita is dead, it’s still very much alive and well, the dungeon crawler slash visual novel (?) Ray Gigant serving as exhibit A and the ecchi shooter (?) Gun Gun Pixies as exhibit B. Obscure Japanese oddities, of course, might not even count in the first place but after all these years, I’ve still managed to end up with slightly more Vita games than 3DS games. The difference is negligible, though, so as far as handheld console gaming goes, it’s definitely a case of either or – preferably – both.

A Girl and Her Golem

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Since the heavy hitters of gaming often require so much time and commitment, I think I’ll conserve most of them until summer vacation. Until then, there are delightfully compact experiences to enjoy on everyday weekends such as this one. This Saturday, for example, was all about jolly good time spent with A Rose in the Twilight. Then again, jolly might not exactly be the best adjective here, considering the game is a gloomy story of a cursed little girl, Rose, who wakes up in a dungeon of a decrepit castle with a white, thorny rose growing from her back. There’s not a living soul in sight and everything looks dreary, so it’s definitely due time to get out. Soon enough, Rose finds out she’s immortal and that her rose is capable of absorbing both color and time from objects nearby. Sadly, most of the color around is nothing but blood, giving Rose a glimpse into the final moments of the deceased as well as her own, forgotten past. What could be considered slight consolation, she at least bumps into a mysterious golem that just might help her find her away outside.

If you wanted the briefest of summaries of A Rose in the Twilight, it would be Japanese Limbo. A fragile little girl paves her physics-based way through forlorn surroundings, brutally dying dozens and dozens of times on the way. Even if the player was skilled enough, by the time new areas of the castle need to be opened, Rose has no choice but to bravely enter an execution chamber to give up one more of her infinite lives to offer blood to the brambles guarding the door to the next area. It’s all extremely harsh, although still skewed more towards desolate sadness than pure sadism.

Thankfully, there’s the golem. The two main characters are swiftly switched between by the press of a button, and unless both are present at the exit gate of any given area, it’s no-go. Not only does the golem have no trouble pushing through thorns that are fatal to Rose, it can also grab, carry, and throw stuff, Rose included. She, on the other hand, excels on absorbing color and momentum from objects and then transferring it somewhere else. The game mechanics are a breeze to pick up, and they serve a lovely round of puzzle-induced platforming. The two often get separated but the eventual reunion is always a jubilant occasion.

A Rose in the Twilight is stylish in a minimalistic fashion. Aside from a bunch of diary entries and a few tutorial messages, there’s hardly anything to read. The golem is mute, of course, but so is Rose. The story is all about hunting down and watching unspoken theatrical cutscenes, and the music is all instrumental, artfully conveying a feel of solitude. The best part is the presence of an actual story. The game can be a bit challenging at times, and by the first time the credits roll it might feel like enough is enough. Choose to push on, though, and it’s so much more worth it.

That’s not to say the game wouldn’t be an occasional, massive arsehole, though. All platformers relying on physics are more or less unpredictable, and by the time you restart a checkpoint for the tenth time to get to the next one while multitasking between two different characters with two different skill sets under an annoying time limit, it’s not necessarily fun. Even if everything else goes peachy, Rose’s (ac)cursed rose is probably in full bloom when it shouldn’t and the other way around. My personal nine-hour journey now feels worth every minute but during it, things weren’t always quite as elated.

The game has some speedrun trophies that can just as well shove it, but the overall experience was decidedly a good one. A Rose in the Twilight might not set the gaming world on fire but as a grim, yet fundamentally beautiful fairytale, it leaves behind an aftertaste most exquisite!

The Swinging Sixties

Yes, I am hidden (^^;)

Despite just recently getting out of the 80’s, I’ve somehow found myself back in the past once more. As predicted, Mafia III jumped the line and took me to 1968, the year Lincoln Clay returns home from a four year sortie in Vietnam. He’s keen to start living a normal life and get an honest job but his foster family is having a bit of trouble. Haitian ruffians are hampering their lottery racket and they have fallen badly behind in payments to the town’s most prominent mafia family, the Marcanos. Clay, with his special forces expertise, wastes no time dealing with the Haitians and even a ballsy, most lucrative heist of the Federal Reserve Bank goes without a hitch. The money stolen should be more than enough to appease Sal Marcano, yet the ruthless Don prefers to keep it all to himself and get rid of Clay and his friends for good. Clay is the only one to barely survive the ensuing bloodbath, and after recuperating for a few months, it’s time to strike down upon Marcano and his lackeys with great vengeance and furious anger. No style points for originality but it’s still a decent setup for yet another sandbox.

Mafia III takes place in the fictional city of New Bordeaux on the Gulf Coast of the United States. It’s a nicely varied blend of business, industry, and slum districts. There’s plenty of neon, ramshackled shanties, playful alligators, and 60’s classic rock. Heck, when even the main menu song is Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower, you can be certain that the musical aspect of the game, at least, is in good hands. Still, even if the game’s radio stations are full of excellent music and there’s plenty of mighty nice looking screenshots on the internet, New Bordeaux comes off remarkably flat, faded, and muffled. The roads are smooth and wide, there’s a little bit of traffic, and at least a handful of pedestrians who randomly greet Clay or scold him if he bumps into them. Everything you’d expect is present but rather than a bustling metropolis, the city feels more like a subdued ghost town.

As for actual gameplay, Mafia III is equally bland, if perhaps a tad more enjoyable. You go after Marcano by taking over his rackets one by one. By first roughing up informants, you learn what is going down and where. After that, you cause enough economic damage to the racket that its leader has no choice but to come forth. They are then either killed for some quick cash or recruited to Clay’s side for less money but more long-term benefits. For the first seven hours or so nearly all missions have been variations of the theme “go to the given location and deal with everyone there in a way of your choosing.” This is where Mafia III gets unwittingly silly. If you prefer to use firearms, the game regresses into a mundane cover-based shooter. It’s remarkably more fun to sneak from cover to cover and use melee attacks to get rid of the enemies with stealth. They’re dumb as bricks and apparently half blind, too, so every area is essentially just an empowering stealth track where it’s nigh on impossible to screw up. Besides, even if you get discovered, it’s just a matter of whipping out a pistol or a rifle and rain lead on the remaining baddies who either charge you or hide behind cover, waiting for that inevitable headshot. It’s all very unimaginative and unchallenging but, in some perverse fashion, also pretty damn relaxing.

Even if I’ve barely just started the game, it already feels like an antithesis of Mafia II. That one had a great story but was a pointless sandbox whereas this time around the scales tip the other way. Grand Theft Auto this most definitely isn’t but at least it’s awkward in a good, adorable way. It probably was a huge disappointment as a day one AAA behemoth but as a B-class bargain bin find, it’s actually really quite entertaining.

Aw yiss, motha f**kin P5!

As for having to curse like a sailor, there was no need for that, after all. Earlier this week, Atlus’ purportedly stellar Persona 5 finally found itself to my household, accompanied by NIS America’s gloomy puzzle platformer (I guess?) A Rose in the Twilight. While my original plan was to dedicate this four day Easter holiday to the first of those two, I’m making such jolly progress in Mafia III that perhaps a little break from Japanese games is in order. Of course, considering how fast my backlog grows, I’m destined to have projects long into my potential retirement years. Still, can’t really complain; these are exceptionally good times to be a console gamer!

Smooth-ish Moves

The weekend gaming session is in full swing courtesy of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. While this 2D platformer series saw daylight already in 2002 on Game Boy Color, I’ve missed all the previous ones due to a severe digital allergy and – as for the very first game – never having owned a GBC. After WayForward finally decided to test the waters by releasing Shantae’s newest escapade also in physical form, I had no reason not to give it a chance. And sure enough, it turned out to be a pretty good call, even if the ride was a tad bumpy.

The heroine of the game, Shantae, is a perky, upbeat dancer stylishly grooving away in harem pants. She’s also the Guardian Genie of Scuttle Town. A demanding post for sure, given that the wily female pirate, Risky Boots, seems rather fixated on terrorizing the citizens of said town. Shantae’s uncle is already working on some weird contraption that should keep Risky at bay but since it’s missing a miscellaneous bunch of parts, it’s up to Shantae to travel the world and pick them up.

Shantae is charming from the get-go. The eloquent, anime-inspired graphics are pleasing to the eye, and the animation of the heroine in particular, with all the fluidity and attention to detail, is absolutely phenomenal. A jolly soundtrack with subtle oriental undertones accompany the action well.

Shantae isn’t as much a straightforward platformer as it is a (silly-)story-driven action-adventure. Even if new locations are unlocked one by one, the hunt for spare parts frequently requires visits to Scuttle Town, which acts as a central hub of sorts. There, conversations with its denizens give hints on what to do next and where to do it. Previously completed stages are constantly revisited but if that sounds like repetition, it’s not like that at all; along the way, Shantae learns dances that enable her to transform into other characters, each with their own array of skills. Monkey Shantae, for example, can ascend vertical walls with ease whereas Mermaid Shantae is a given to explore underwater locations. With skills like these, every vast stage is suddenly rife with Metroidvania-like secrets to unravel.

Shantae might look jovial and easy to approach, but I’d say a word of warning is still in place. At least for a casual gaming pleb like myself, the courtship period was utterly harrowing. Checkpoints are sparse and Shantae’s health just plain pathetic. For the first hour, I mostly ended up repeating the same sections over and over again. After challenging the second boss, I must have viewed the Game Over screen dozens of times in a row. Pure frustration almost made me write off the game as inconsequential rubbish before it had even started.

After bumping into a couple of health upgrades and especially after realizing that the Scuttle Town shop sells all sorts super-helpful items such as healing magic and health potions, my blood pressure started to return to ordinary levels. It’s not that big a deal but these kind of moments are exactly what manuals are meant for. Sadly, even physical copies no longer have those. Actually, this one doesn’t even have an in-game help screen that would show what each button does. Everything has to be learned blind. Manageable, sure, but an unnecessary hurdle nonetheless.

Even if the level designers seem to love exact jumps, disappearing platforms, sudden deaths, memorization, automatically scrolling panic sections, and other cheap stunts like that, the game actually becomes easier as you go along. If you can be at least moderately bothered with the hidden stuff, the roughly seven-hour journey eventually turns quite relaxed somewhere in the middle. While the game might have serious balance issues, it’s actually refreshing to play as someone who has an easier time by growing stronger. Makes sense, really.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll join the cult of Shantae quite yet but it was still an experience I wouldn’t mind more of. I left behind a bunch of collectibles and it looked like it has an NG+ of some sort, so perhaps this isn’t the last time it enjoys coverage. For now, though, I’m happy with its end credits and will move on to ponder what to play next.

A couple of other games have recently found their way into the collection, too. Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni, together with its eight art cards (of which the one in the photo is perhaps the least controversial), is most likely going to be as ecchi as it gets. It’s not interesting because of gameplay elements or ridiculously massive boobs but because it’s so hilariously and unapologetically Japanese. If anything, I’m looking forward to hearty, good-natured laughs. As for Persona 4: Dancing All Night, I already have the Japanese copy but since it featured a baffling amount of text for a rhythm game, I think I’ll give it a more proper go in English. It’s probably not going to overthrow Hatsune Miku but if this blog will ever feature any sort of blatant bias then you can be sure that all Japanese rhythm games are, by default, pretty much the best thing ever!

Cat Girl Invasion

Well, I’ll be! The gaming year 2017 has barely kicked off and there’s already good news for antromo… antropomop… antporomorp… furry fans. Come spring, there’s at least two releases to twitch an ear to, so this innately Japanese entertainment tradition seems very much alive and well. Which is good, because cats are always awesome.

Atlus has already confirmed a western release for both Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. The first-mentioned will be out some time this spring while the latter is scheduled for fall. It’s apparently some sort of a two-part saga that touts itself as an VN/SRPG hybrid. So, plenty of story-driven reading coupled with isometric, turn-based tactical combat? I’m sold! The games will be released on both PS4 and Vita, and while Europe can only look forward to paltry digital releases, it’s still an option to import physical copies from across the pond instead. The games will even sport original audio with English subtitles, so my mouse cursor is already hovering over an imaginary “Add to Cart” button.

Meanwhile, Koei Tecmo still relies on a 20-year-old recipe of totally OP heroes effortlessly hacking and slashing their way through thousands of enemies. Musou Stars, also a PS4/Vita release, will most likely be just as uninspired as the dozens of games preceding it, but at least its cast looks like proper fan service. Instead of crabby Chinese legends, the game features playable characters from a number of other games and series, including Atelier, Dead or Alive, Toukiden, and even the Wii oddball Opoona! The cat girl on the video, Tamaki, is an original. I think it’s quite safe to say this won’t be even near to any kind of game of the year nomination but for such a silly potpourri, I’ll gladly take it for a spin. Musou Stars will be out in Japan on March 2, but considering how many games from the studio have seen daylight in the west before, a local release date should be just a matter of time.