Category Archives: Playthrough

Möst Wöndërfül

First some speed and then a leap into the unknown

The beginning of this Saturday has been quite jovial. I chose to play Type:Rider, which is a French 2D art platformer that was included in this month’s PlayStation Plus pile. It touts itself as a typographical video game, and it stars a happy little umlaut (or perhaps it’s a colon?) that rolls and jumps its way through mankind’s character, font, and printing history ranging from ancient cave paintings to modern day digitization. Along the journey, there are plenty of famous typeface letters to collect, including asterisks that open up really rather interesting little articles about the pioneers and innovations of the printing industry. It’s fun and educational; not bad!

The minimalist, stylishly designed stages are full of woodcuts, lithographs, posters, and typefaces. Traversing them is all about honoring the laws of physics, except when they make you curse physics altogether. The player’s two rolling dots are capable of jumping and rotating in the air but it’s quite tricky to keep them in perfect control. Inertia is your best friend but when it either runs out or there’s too much of it, you usually take a wildly spinning plunge into oblivion. Thankfully there are loads of checkpoints, and the game isn’t that challenging to begin with. Every now and then, there are also lightweight puzzle rooms where you have to free a third dot and then push it to a pedestal that enables you to proceed.

All the collectible letters can be found with relative ease, and even if you go after all of them, the game shouldn’t take longer than about two and a half hours to complete. One hour more, and I even managed to unlock all of its trophies. Those who want more can still improve their automatically tracked completion times or head to a separate speed run track that provides considerably more challenge for competitive gamers. Also, each stage has been split into four sections, each of which can be warped into via the in-game menu. In this game, reliving its best moments or practicing its slightly more challenging parts is remarkably quick and easy.

Even as a little snack, Type:Rider made me smile a lot. It’s original and stylish in a way that many French game developers seem to handle so eerily well. Sure, it’s also short and easy but then again, it never outstays its welcome, and it’s actually quite relaxing to play a game that isn’t constantly trying to make its player lose their cool. What a delightfully entertaining morning this has been!

Two Note Wonder

So adorable in stills, so brutal in motion

After an additional five hours or so, I’ve completed all songs of Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon! Mystery Adventure on Normal. 59 of them with a full combo, 11 others in a less-stellar fashion. There might still be a few more hidden songs but I think I’ll let them remain hidden. The song selection was, once again, a delightful mixture of all sorts of stuff, even if nothing was exceptionally memorable. As for game songs, the Kirby and Ace Attorney medleys were nice, and some of the Namco original tracks were just as silly as they were awesome. The jpop and anime picks, however, came off surprisingly generic. Then again, we all have our own taste in music, so the game still deserves praise for its diversity.

On whole, Dokodon! Mystery Adventure is probably just as comfy and familiar to hardcore fans of the series as it remains slightly more unconventional for the rest of us. The video above sums it up quite nicely. If you truly want to excel in Taiko games, you need A) a flat surface, B) willingness to embrace the touch screen , C) two styluses, and D) the soul of a drummer. If you prefer the casual, traditional way of holding the console in your hands and using your thumbs and index fingers to hit the notes, it’s a perfectly viable style on Easy and Normal but not so much on the two harder difficulties. The series is simply designed to be experienced in a way that is eventually way too fast for finger reflexes alone.

That’s actually both the main strength and weakness of the whole series. Taiko games require a unique playstyle. Eventually mastering it is probably highly rewarding but unless you dream of becoming a drummer, or are willing to dedicate your life to master a single series, it’s not even remotely as exciting. Each to their own, of course, but I still prefer an everyday eight button Hatsune Miku experience to pure two note divinity, even if the latter is bloody impressive when showcased by a skilled professional. As such, this is a game that can easily provide hundreds of hours of entertainment but it’s also a game that can be experienced in a jiffy, still appreciating its songs, replaying at least some of them just because they’re fun, and finding nothing genuinely wrong with the gameplay, either. For the sake of diversity, though, I’ll now take my 17 hours and, having once again satisfied my hunger for rhythm, rush towards new experiences.

Hooray for physical!

The game flood of early 2017 is starting to recede but while I was busy with one, two others still managed to sneak their way in. Of those, The Silver Case is a remake of a PS1 adventure from 1999. The reason for its comeback is undoubtedly its delightfully strange writer and designer, Goichi Suda. The Silver Case was his debut into the gaming industry, so it’s rather interesting to see just how eccentric it is. If I had to wager, I’d say extremely. The other game, Stardew Valley, is more or less about a single person as well. Eric Barone developed this Harvest Moon -esque agriculture RPG all by himself, and it has received nothing but praise from multiple sources. Since it was finally deemed worthy of a physical release, too, I’m definitely excited to give it a go.

Feisty Fish

Three arms and a bowl. I’M INVINCIBLE!! Until next stage.

This lazy Sunday has been all about extravagant nothing. My only accomplishment has been grabbing the last few trophies of a two-year-old indie 2D shooter Shütshimi: Seriously Swole. It’s yet another fake retro style release that was given free to PlayStation Plus subscribers a little over a year ago. Back then, its humorous angle was much appreciated but since the game always felt awfully challenging, it ended up being something I played on and off in little bursts over a long period of time. Apparently each session still taught me something, as I finally managed to complete the damn thing. To be precise, I actually finished it last week, triumphed over its boss rush mode last Friday, and spent today cleaning off its remaining few trophies.

Shütshimi’s take on shoot’em ups is amusing and brisk. You play as a totally pissed-off gold fish that defends its home waters against all sorts of maritime nasties, be they laser-shooting sharks or even underwater bears. Each stage only lasts about ten seconds, and between them you get to quickly choose between three random bonuses. Some of them are genuinely useful (say, a protective fish bowl, extra arms for additional damage, or a bouncy castle where everyone plays nice), others mostly cosmetic (a huge pile of hats), and the rest downright nasty (inverted controls, twice the size, or plenty more enemies to kill). You only get a few seconds to choose between these verbosely described bonuses, so it’s either a matter of blind luck or getting good enough to spot the ones that are practical or, in the worst case scenario, at least remotely less annoying.

At first, Shütshimi seems easy and relaxed. Every five enemy waves, a brutal boss appears. You shoot them for as much as the time allows, and if that’s not enough, it’s another five waves to survive to continue from where you left off. Even if no stage lasts longer than those ten seconds, it’s often long enough for the enemy hordes to flatten your stalwart gold-scaled hero and, since the game plays like a dream, you always have no one but yourself to blame. It probably doesn’t take longer than an evening or two to deal with the three main bosses of the game, but when you are then challenged to beat their advanced forms… I haven’t kept track of time spent with this one but as mentioned, it’s a game that has been steadily bugging me for a year or so.

While the indie scene is hopelessly crammed with these pixel-art forays, Shütshimi was a pleasant little surprise. It’s a simple, challenging game that I ended up coming back to over and over again, just like back in my youth when some games were equally brutal and yet somehow inexplicably compelling. I guess that’s the best recommendation I can give.

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!

Just Business

About to get medieval on your ass, you racist little prick!

Not only did this Easter vacation give me a chance to rest my still awfully temperamental hip, it was just enough to complete Mafia III. As a delightful surprise, the story missions towards the end actually involved a bit of handwriting. While they still weren’t anything more than massive firefights, at least they took place in spectacular settings. Since getting to Marcano also required to go through most of his relatives as well, Clay’s vengeful odyssey began to pack some serious assertiveness. When the CIA just spurs you along while a priest watches in horror what the once upright young man is turning into, it’s something you start thinking as a player, too. At least you still get your say in the final decisions, and as I try to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, let’s just say the eventual meeting between Sal Marcano and Lincoln Clay is a small, yet beautiful and memorable piece of storytelling in games.

Before Marcano, I paid a quick visit to the Faster, Baby! DLC, which opens up an entirely new district on the map. Sinclair Parish is a pathetic backwater suburb where the official authorities are essentially nazis and asshole residents proudly don their white bedsheet capes. Together with a hard-boiled afro chick, Roxy, Clay gets to wreak biblical havoc on the local, utterly racist excuse of a sheriff. The best word to describe this DLC is speed. The area is flat and unobstructed, designed around excessive speeds and massive police chases, which is what the add-on is all about with the absurdity meter cranked up to eleven. Using Roxy’s bad-ass pickup, you end up trashing half the neighborhood and jumping through billboards in cinematic fashion that pays homage to every car chase movie ever. It’s a nice, rambunctious break from the main game but then again, it hardly takes more than a couple of hours to experience, including plenty of cutscenes. It also gives you a chance to grow and cultivate cannabis to sell but the darn seedlings took so long to sprout that I ended up passing my chance for the joys of horticulture. Still, there’s supposed to be two more story-focused add-ons released later this year, so perhaps I’ll get back to this come summertime.

As a concluding statement, Mafia III isn’t particularly noteworthy but also not nearly as hopeless as its review scores might imply. It falls short on storytelling, which is strong in the beginning and in the end, but the beef in the middle is just repetitious, meaningless fluff. Still, during my playthrough of 41 hours, I pretty much never felt unsatisfied or annoyed, and the time just flew by. The game might not provide a captivating story but as a 60’s sandbox, it was certainly worth one very merry Easter!

Return to Modern Day Everyday

Don’t ask…

After homecoming and a bit of physiotherapy, my life is falling back into its normal pattern. I even managed to finish my plate of early spring games by finally beating Yakuza 0 from almost a couple of months back, although only by skipping a notable amount of side content. Even after more than 65 hours, my completion percentage was a paltry 60.69%. No can do; all Yakuza games are such huge strawberry cakes that even if they are the most enjoyable thing for quite some time, enough is eventually enough. Still, the main story was brilliant as usual. Towards the memorable, bittersweet conclusion the game really amped up its drama, manly tears were shed, and the families vying for ever more power in the clan got caught up in a storm of treacherous scheming and mutual backstabbing. It wasn’t even a matter of distinctly good and bad guys duking it out more than it was about different shades of gray. Impressive!

I actually planned to complete the game more than a couple of weeks ago. The final confrontations, however, got so punishing even on the easiest difficulty that I respectfully backed down and first finished both Kiryu’s real estate management and Majima’s hostess club side stories. Completing them rewarded both characters with so much income and other goodies that by the time I headed back to the final fray, even the strongest of adversaries were total pushovers. Granted, I also could’ve learned all the intricacies of the surprisingly deep battle system in the very beginning but in this series, it’s deceptively easy to rely on just mindless button mashing and a couple of simple combos that eventually get the job done. Still, it’s only nice that you can enjoy the game as casually or seriously as you prefer.

As for side content, there’s definitely more than enough. Achieving absolutely everything the game has to offer would require two playthroughs and most likely more than double the hours invested. As for myself, I had a great time with all the hilarious social stuff but voluntarily skipped most fighting activities and more than a dozen bar, gambling, and board games that have already been featured throughout the series. Even if comprehensive tutorials are there to teach you even the likes of shogi and mahjong, it’s very much a matter of each to their own. Many of the minigames and other miscellaneous stuff are perhaps a little too plain and repetitious but at least there’s plenty to choose from.

On whole, Yakuza 0 is, at least for now, hands down the most enjoyable gaming experience I’ve had this year. Those of us who have been along the ride since the very first game might already find it a little too familiar at times but the developers always pack so much emotion and warmth to these games that come summer and Yakuza Kiwami, I’ll most likely find myself back in Kamurocho once more.

A lovely haul any other week than this :/

I’m actually quite pleased to have the aforementioned juggernaut out of the way. While I’ve been not-gaming, yet more PS4 releases managed to sneak in. Nier: Automata, praised by both critics and gamers alike, really is most intriguing. Before jumping into it, though, I think its PS3 predecessor, Nier, warrants a replay. Even if I’ve come to understand that Automata is pretty much a sequel in name only, this genre-defying action-JRPG series is so unique that it’ll probably be even better by enjoying both games in succession. Besides, it has been closer to seven years since I last played Nier, so it’s definitely due for another go-round.

In the meantime, by now Square Enix must have made some sort of world record by following up on Kingdom Hearts II with about a gazillion other Kingdom Hearts games that seem connected only by the fact that none of them is Kingdom Hearts III. I’ve only played through the first two games of the main series but now that PS4 got yet another not-KH3, namely Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix, I think that by the time I’ve completed its compilation of six different games, it might be time for the actual third part to be released. Around 2021 or something.

Considering the games I currently have, I’m actually most tempted to dwell into Mafia III, even if it didn’t garner much acclaim back when it was released. However, considering the games I DON’T have, there’s that certain recent Atlus mega-release that in my case seems to enjoy yet another merry weekend in transit (that’s what you get for being a petty cheapskate and importing from across the world). Damn it! Thankfully I was going to be busy this weekend, anyway, so it’s not the end of the world. Still, if that undoubtedly highly mysterious game isn’t by my doorstep come the four-day Easter holiday next week, my cursing will also be heard in the neighboring municipalities. You have been warned.

Daishi’s Longest Month

How about a game of Spot Ranko?

It seems like early spring lethargy has become a tradition for me. Despite the days getting longer and winter slowly but surely starting to yield, I just don’t seem to get any gaming done. While the pile of sizable games requiring dozens of hours of commitment just keeps on growing, I’d much rather enjoy something more lightweight and fleeting for a change. Thankfully my backlog had something for that itch, too, namely Bandai Namco’s multimedia project from 2014, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day. It’s a peculiar little anime/game hybrid that consists of four short films, about 15 minutes each, and a game. They have been produced by heavyweights such as Katsuhiro Otomo and Goichi Suda, so my expectations were high from the get-go.

The anime half of the release is visually stunning, although really quite random in content. Possessions is a story of a skilled artisan spending a night in a possessed hut while Combustible tells a tragic love story in Edo period Japan. The violent and gory Gambo focuses on a fight between a bear and a demon, whereas A Farewell to Weapons follows a squad battling robotic tanks in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Although these shorties sport impeccable style and animation, they’re mostly just vague concepts; loose, momentary glimpses into various worlds. Even if A Farewell to Weapons, at least, serves a tasty morsel of gallows humor about mankind’s self-destructive tendencies, it feels like these films are not so much about poignant stories than about promoting Japanese animation and what it can be capable of.

As for the game half, Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day isn’t any more full-bodied but at least it opens up all the floodgates of sheer anarchy. Its titular heroine is a 17-year-old high school girl slash assassin, who decides to avenge the death of her mother by killing his father. Ranko’s journey of vengeance is a rapid 2D platformer in which she slices various oncoming monsters with a katana while being chased by spirits that are kept at bay by shooting. The game also features hoverbikes, a dragon the size of a high-rise, one awfully feisty Pomeranian, Mexican professional wrestling, and several utterly bonkers cutscenes realized in pretty much every style imaginable. And all of this compressed into a package that lasts just a little over one hour!

The strength of Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day lies in its comprehensive and unrestrained frolicking. As a game, however, it’s a bit unwieldy. There’s never any breathing room as the aim is to get Ranko up to speed, Sonic style, and then keep the momentum going. Both attacking and bumping into obstacles slow Ranko down, so the game is essentially a stressful reaction test that requires an almost zen-like flow. There aren’t even any checkpoints, so if you die in a 2-3 minute stage, you’re ruthlessly returned back to its beginning. Disposed enemies explode into graphical, onomatopoetic fireworks, so most of the time the screen is full of pure, incomprehensible clutter. The short length of the game is compensated by dozens of presents hidden in its stages, unlocking concept art and additional costumes for Ranko. Of course, there’s also a bunch of trophies that reward exceptionally skillful and speedy gaming. All of that probably means there would be a couple more hours of entertainment to be salvaged. To my liking, though, Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is just a wee bit too hectic and frustrating.

Overall, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is a one evening snack, which justifies its existence mostly as a shrewd curiosity. It’s like a small platter of assorted sushi, demonstrating Japanese entertainment culture in a delightfully compact and versatile way, but in the end that’s pretty much all there is.

*Gavel Sound*

A common feeling while playing

Seems like it took an entire month (well, a little over 38 hours) but I’ve finally beat Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. After the gargantuan final case, I somewhat reluctantly have to admit that it’s by far the most massive but also the most disappointing entry in the series. On paper, everything probably looked mighty awesome. If pretty much all the main characters of the past five games make a comeback, if half the cases are solved in an exotic location abroad, and if all the murder mysteries are tweaked to be so tricky and surprising that it’ll take not just the usual 20-25 hours but 35-40 hours to solve, then surely all that will contribute to what will be the most stellar Ace Attorney experience ever! Right? Of course it will! It’s going to be huge! It’s going to be mindblowing!

Nope.

It feels like matricide to criticize a series which sports an original trilogy still ever close to my gaming heart. Still, there’s no two ways about it. Spirit of Justice is guilty of blatant overcompensation. Its pacing is all over the place and once it has exhausted the pool of cool logic, it nonchalantly dips into the pool of supernatural to explain any inconvenient contradiction. Granted, Ace Attorney cases have never been shy to teeter on the edge of credibility but Spirit of Justice takes it to another, awkward level.

The inclusive cast of the past wreaks havoc on an emotional level. Many of these characters are those we’ve come to know and love over a long period of time. Now everyone is merely a model quickly making their required turn on the catwalk, and it feels cheap. Stunts like making an assistant the attorney, or switching the positions of a prosecutor and a defense attorney are just desperate cries of a writer totally out of ideas. It’s the same with the script. It’s almost like it was written once but then given to an assistant who had to double its length by any means necessary. Visual novels tend to be text heavy, sure, but this one is blatantly drawn out. The final case in particular is so full of dot-only lines that it’s no longer a sign of drama but perhaps a sign of the writer getting a bit frustrated with excessive fat, too.

Spirit of Justice is still a potent courtroom drama(-comedy) but game by game, I can’t help but feel that it would’ve been better off as a trilogy. Since there’s no competition, even a poor Ace Attorney is still better than nothing but as it stands, it’s an uphill battle against the fans themselves.

Rhythm Change

– So, how goes it? – …

Lockstep. I’m certain Rhythm Paradise Megamix veterans already know where this is going. For the past few days, the game has already been not-quite-as-fun-as-before but now I’m quite content to toss it back to the backlog. The aforementioned minigame requires you to keep up a swift rhythm while switching to offbeat and back. I can’t even complete its tutorial. As expected, the internet folk consider it “a piece of cake once you get the hang of it” and they’re probably right. Still, for the life of me, I just can’t get my brain around it. I’m now at a point where just the thought of starting the game for one more go feels repulsive. To avoid a storm of the foulest of profanities, it’s probably best to take a break. At least there’s some consolation in knowing that it has been a major hurdle for others as well.

Idol power!

In order to finish at least something in February (and to lie to myself that I still have a perfectly valid sense of rhythm), I dug out the Jolly Olde PSP and played through a much shorter and more forgiving rhythm game. The Idolm@ster Shiny Festa: Groovy Tune is one of the three games that Bandai Namco ruthlessly used to raid the wallets of the most fervent Idolm@ster fans. Most Idolm@ster games are manager simulations that require fluency in Japanese. The Shiny Festa trilogy, however, represents pure rhythm gaming in which the language barrier is hardly an issue.

The Shiny Festa games comprise of 48 songs that have been deviously divided between three different games; Honey Sound, Funky Note, and Groovy Tune. Each of them has 14 unique songs and six that are common to all. The 13 teenage idols of the 765 Production talent agency have been separated as well, with Groovy Tune focusing on Miki Hoshii, Yukiho Hagiwara, Makoto Kikuchi, and Takane Shijou. You, as Producer-san, lead this group of four to a fabulous paradise island for a bit of R&R and competitive singing. The show kicks in with an impressive, full-length, 23-minute anime episode that does a decent job introducing the plot even for us linguistically handicapped players. After an equally hazy, yet intuitively achievable tutorial section it’s time to get to business.

The 20 song selection is a pleasing mix of mostly energetic girly pop seasoned with a couple of more relaxed ballads. Gameplay is deceptively simple. Notes flow in from both sides of the screen towards the hit zone in the middle, where they have to be struck with rhythmical precision using any button on their respective sides. Some notes require simultaneous presses or holding down a button for the duration of the note but all in all, success only requires distinction between left and right.

At first the system feels ridiculously unchallenging. On Debut level, the notes follow a straight line and it’s quite possible to score absolutely flawless performances even on the very first try. The hit window is generous and the notes have been placed exceptionally well. Still, the ostensible easiness is but a fleeting breath and all it takes to ramp up the challenge is to mix up these basically simple variations to breathtaking levels and above, laced with devilishly twisting note paths on top. Everything is still doable on Regular difficulty, but Pro is already rather panicky, and Master well beyond the reach of mere mortals.

Visually, Groovy Tune is most excellent, albeit by cheating a little. At least it looks like the music videos accompanying the songs would have been rendered on better hardware and then just transferred onto PSP as videos. Granted, the pace doesn’t give much time to ogle the cute girls and their massive wardrobe to begin with, but even with an occasional glance here and there, the overall appearance is rather pleasing. As for the music, it’s naturally down to each one’s taste but fans of lightweight jpop should nevertheless find the included selection most satisfying.

Content-wise, the game is pretty much just one third. The 20 songs can be completed in little over an hour, after which there’s the main story mode known as Star of Festa. It’s a five day (in-game) campaign during which you play 15 songs of your choice, aiming to amass 100,000 fan votes by the end of the festival. Every three songs you can also challenge another idol. Should you outperform them, you’re rewarded with their collectible character card. There are 50 cards in total but they, too, have been divided between the three games. In order to get the complete Shiny Festa experience, you pretty much have to own them all. Thankfully I managed to grab them used, as it would have been outrageously expensive otherwise. As fine as the Shiny Festa games look and play, they would’ve been better off as one. On their own, they’re just trifling snacks.

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!