Category Archives: Shopping

Punful Days with a Side Order of Cats

Spirry just being her (?) lovable curt self

Good quality games can pop up from anywhere around the world. Yesterday, this claim was proved by the Singaporean indie studio The Gentlebros, whose consciously tongue-in-cheek cat action RPG Cat Quest managed to glue me to the telly for all of its eight hours’ worth. Its nameless feline hero is in trouble from the very beginning. A wicked white cat, Drakoth, kidnaps his sister and starts terrorizing the hapless, peasant-filled kingdom of Felingrad with ancient dragons. As luck would have it, our poor hero turns out to be a descendant of the mythical dragon slayers. Granted, he’s also very much the silent type but that’s not really an issue as he’s soon joined by a jovial and chatty cat spirit Spirry. Together, these two end up pouncing all over Felingrad, foiling Drakoth’s dastardly plans while bumping into pretty much every imaginable, most awkward cat pun in known existence.

After a delightfully compact intro, almost the entirety of Felingrad is immediately open for exploration. The whole game world is literally a map that has been filled with amusingly named areas, villages, dungeons, and a bunch of cutesy monsters. The latter are beaten in fluent real-time combat that is based on skillfully simplified controls. One button is reserved for attacking and another for nimby rolling away from harm’s way. The four shoulder buttons of the controller, in turn, can be customized to fling spells sold and enhanced by Felingrad’s mage kittens. Although magic is powerful, it requires mana that can only be restored in melee combat, so all brawls require at least a modicum of tactical thinking. As for items or shops, there are none. Village inns are just free save spots and practically all weapons and gear are acquired from cat chests within dungeons.

In order to keep the player suitably leveled up for the main story, all villages have notice boards providing plenty of miscellaneous side quests. Some of them end up teaching the hero essential special skills such as the ability to walk on water or even fly. Most of them, though, are merely simple variations of themes such as “fetch something”, “go somewhere”, “kill all”, or usually all three rolled into one. While this sort of lazy and haphazard quest design would poison pretty much any game, Cat Quest sports a full house of cuteness and (good) bad humor but, most importantly, exemplary pacing. Since all the quests and dungeons are extraordinarily short, those eight hours are perfectly adequate to complete all 62 side quests, triumph over all 52 dungeons, and even level up the hero all the way up to 99. Even if the entire adventure ends up repeating itself from the very beginning to the very end, the pace itself is so delightfully brisk that the repetition never has time to turn into an actual issue. Since all quests and dungeons are even polite enough to hint what their recommended character level is, there’s not even need for pointless grinding.

Whereas so many games, indies in particular, expect their players to come around and then stay around for extended, often unreasonably long periods of time, Cat Quest is lovably honest. It is fully aware of its capability to provide goofy entertainment for no more than a day or so, but it also does its darnedest to ensure that day will be as entertaining as possible. That’s exactly how mine turned out, so mission accomplished and two thumbs up!

That aforementioned mini-gem also kicked off this year’s shopping coverage as Ron Gilbert’s Thimbleweed Park actually managed to find its new home during the very last days of 2017. Not only is it my first (and most likely last) physical PC release, it’s most certainly one of the finest commemorations to all those wonderful Lucasfilm graphic adventures of the late 80’s and early 90’s. You know, those games that were loved by so many of us modern day geezers who were too broke and flippant as teenagers back then. Even if the likes of Good Old Games have since then given us a chance to atone digitally, those big boxes of the past remain just as awesome as they once were.

D’awwwww!

This gaming year sticks into mind not only because of its decent overall quality but also because colorful platformers seem to be making at least a moderate kind of comeback. Sadly, big companies still rely mostly on established brands and HD remakes of their past hits. Although playing safe like that is mildly boring, the world is lucky to have pioneers like Gears for Breakfast. It’s a small newcomer studio whose crowdfunded debut game A Hat in Time turned out to be quite the Christmas miracle. According to the developers themselves, the game is a “cute-as-heck 3D platformer.” Not only is that a very accurate description, the game has no trouble leaping to the very top of the entire genre, proudly showcasing how all it takes is a bit of fresh ingredients to bring back the once forgotten charm of its mid-90’s beloved brethrens.

The protagonist of the game is known simply as the Hat Kid, a young girl whose interstellar home trip is interrupted on the orbit of a mafia planet. After a brief toll dispute, her ship takes a bit of damage that sends both her and her ship’s fuel source, 40 magical hourglasses, plummeting to the surface of the planet. The journey back home can resume only after retrieving the fuel, so it’s time for another traditional collectathon. The planet has been divided into four reasonably vast open world areas, each featuring ten more or less story-driven acts. The girl’s ship acts as a central hub from where she can challenge these acts in any order, although entirely new areas require a certain number of retrieved hourglasses and some acts cannot be completed before acquiring specific gear from the others.

The nimble Hat Kid masters basic necessities like double jumping and air gliding from the get-go, while an ordinary umbrella acts both as a useful melee weapon and a makeshift parachute when daring leaps turn out to be a little too daring. On top of these rather ordinary skills, the stages feature balls of yarn that can be transformed into new hats that provide unique special powers such as sprinting, making massive leaps off special platforms, concocting explosive potions, or even slowing down time itself. The hats can be further enhanced by badges found or bought. They provide further bonuses such as faster recharging of hat powers, an immensely useful throw hook, or a magnet for automatically pulling in nearby collectibles.

In order for a game to be an action-adventure instead of “merely” a platformer, it needs a story and a bunch of great characters. This is an area where the game truly excels. Not only is the ever-positive Hat Kid perhaps the most endearing heroine ever, the planet is full of eccentric personalities. As well as whooping mafia butt, the girl gets tangled in movie world power struggle between penguins and owls, has to do odd jobs to reclaim her spirit after it gets stolen by a pompous shadow spirit, and hurtle around majestic mountains aiding the local goat people. It’s a highly amusing adventure with constant surprises and plenty of excellent voice acting and music.

On top of all this, A Hat in Time is pleasantly challenging. The end bosses of each area in particular are long, impressive clashes that require far more than, say, landing three easy hits. Instead, they are all about frantic dodging of massive attacks while trying to desperately spot brief openings for a bit of counter damage. It’s hard to avoid retries, hearty cussing, and maybe even a rage quit or two, but in some weird way the game never feels cheap. Sure, the camera can occasionally be a little temperamental, making it unnecessarily hard to leap with precision, but that’s a pet peeve of pretty much any 3D platformer. The trophies, however, deserve another tip of the hat, challenging the player to complete individual acts in unorthodox ways or simply as flawlessly as possible. To see and experience everything took me around 18 hours, so A Hat in Time is delightfully rich in content, too.

Hands down the best thing about the game, though, is how it takes a little rookie studio to show the whole game industry that it’s perfectly possible to create a first-class 3D platformer without always relying on Nintendo and Mario. I, for one, would have happily bought this even as a full price retail game and still feel like getting value for my money. A Hat in Time brings back a once cherished genre with such flair and admirable originality that bigger boys should definitely take notice. One of the most stellar shows in 2017, Gears for Breakfast! More of this, please!

Although a couple of deliveries are still on their way (hopefully, at least), it looks like games shopping for this year is now done. Come next year, I’ll be going for more indie kicks with Thomas Happ’s acclaimed Metroidvania Axiom Verge. Also, even if A Hat in Time will be very hard to beat, I still want to see if one blast from the past, Yooka-Laylee, would quench whatever thirst of 3D platformers I might have left.

City of Angels v1.1

Truth by pantsu

While still enduring an aching back and waiting for the second MRI this year, everyday life is about as dark as the weather. These past few days my current mood has been nicely complemented by L.A. Noire. Its equally dark, cynical and harsh film noir world got remastered for the current console generation. While the improvements are mostly superficial, what worked in 2011 seems to work well even six years later. The story of Cole Phelps, a decorated WWII hero, follows his rise from an ordinary LAPD patrolman to the ranks of the most hard-boiled of detectives in 1947 Los Angeles. It’s a journey not without some quirks and annoyances but on whole, this is still a stylish and entertaining sandbox.

The main distinguising feature of the game are its interrogations of witnesses and suspects. By studying their expressions and body language, Phelps has to determine if their statements are true, doubtful, or outright lies that can be contested with evidence gathered during investigations. It’s a pretty novel and fun idea that always suffered from the hit and miss nature of interpreting the expressions correctly. It was never easy to determine exactly how the fairly hot-tempered Phelps would react to the selected choices. In this version, terms truth and doubt have been replaced with good cop and bad cop but that obviously doesn’t help much. The interrogations do provide a nice brain workout but it’s still deceptively easy to have a hunch and then double check the internet to ensure that it’s the correct one.

If L.A. Noire has been given a new lick of paint, it’s not particularly conspicuous. Despite additional makeup the game still looks somewhat dated and the streets of what is supposed to be a thriving metropolis often uncomfortably desolate. Luckily the cars, billboards, and landmarks of the era were originally modeled with such piety that merely cruising around aimlessly while listening to jazz and old radio plays is still delightful. Sadly the division between the main story and an actual sandbox has remained the same. While GTA style games often advance by driving to story markers on the map, L.A. Noire ushers Phelps from one story case to the next. Proper free roaming is only available after the man has solved enough cases to earn a promotion to a new division, and even then the free mode has to be separately activated by quitting back to the main menu.

Another nuisance that really should have been fixed is the inability to skip cutscenes. It’s hardly an issue the first time around but it’s not until a case has been concluded that the player finds out exactly how many pieces of evidence they missed, how well the interviews went, and how much damage they caused while driving carelessly around the city. Those aiming for perfect five star performance reviews probably have to redo a case or two, making it quite annoying to go through the same motions and cutscenes all over again. Even many of the action sequences are preceded by little intros that have to be watched after each failed attempt. That’s not to say L.A. Noire would be a particularly challenging game but especially in firefights, leaving cover is so awkward that Cole is often subject to some pretty cheap hits.

Those interested in collectibles will find that even if there were already plenty in the original release, there are even more in this remaster. Driving each of the 95 unique vehicles in the game is still a genuinely entertaining challenge but all sorts of film reels, badges, novels, and records are just the sort of pointless little trinkets that one usually bumps into only by accident or with a guide.

Despite the minor issues that really could have used fixing, L.A. Noire is still well worth a second go. It’s a gritty crime drama with easily 30 hours worth of content, and its depiction of the post-war 40s is highly versatile, credible, and enjoyable. Sure, the game’s world is strikingly gruff and unabashedly sexist but then again, that’s what high-class film noir is about. It’s really a pity that the game ended up being its developer’s only production as even with its faults, it remains a refreshingly original take on the sandbox genre.

Last week’s Black Friday came and went without much ado in this household. Good game deals in particular were hard to come by. In the end, I only grabbed a modest pile of PS4 releases that mostly fall into the “I suppose there’s no harm trying” category. Still, the fivesome of Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition, The Last of Us Remastered, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and The Walking Dead: A New Frontier were all under twenty euros each, a price point that usually makes me bite if I’m going to bite at all.

Child of Excess

Seems like it’s occasionally possible to get lucky. When Ubisoft’s slightly more artsy 2D-platformer-RPG Child of Light enjoyed publication and positive reception more than three years ago, it always felt like something that might be fun to try. That never happened, mostly due to the game never getting a physical release (well, it kind of did but a cardboard box with a download code is essentially nothing more than a cardboard box.) While the game never got my money, it was included in the pile of PlayStation Plus games for this September. This gave me a swell chance to see exactly how notable a gem I had been sitting out on for all this time. After a begrudging playthrough of about eight hours, I can’t help but say I didn’t seem to miss much.

In the game, a red-haired princess Aurora whizzes all around the magical kingdom of Lemuria together with firefly fairy Igniculus. While at it, they befriend a ragtag bunch of other adventurers and apparently get tangled into a family drama of some sort. Something along those lines, as the story is something I ended up skipping altogether due to it being told in verse. All narration, character dialogue included, has been forcibly adapted into awkward rhyme that flows as fluent as sludge in tar, bending the story into a shape so painful to follow that after ten minutes it becomes nothing more than drivel to fast-forward through.

That same ten minutes is all it takes for the initially promising Metroidvania-esque world to fall apart. Aurora, only capable of jumping at first, is almost immediately gifted with a magical ability to fly, wrecking half of all the joy of exploration and discovery there could have been. The other half is immediately wrecked by the most egregious display of Ubibloat™ there is. It’s nigh on impossible to go for 15 seconds without bumping into a treasure chest or a shoddily hidden cavern of goodies. What’s worse, almost every turn-based battle causes the characters to level up and earn skill points for their pointless ability trees. The game is like an ADHD patient’s dream come true with constant rewards so ridiculously frequent that in the end, nothing ends up feeling anything at all.

Granted, Child of Light is remarkably beautiful and even more remarkably well-animated. Heck, actually criticizing it in any way feels like kicking a puppy. Still, no can do. When something doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. If the game had a more conservative method of storytelling and a world at least remotely worth exploring, it might’ve enjoyed a bit more scrutiny than this. As it stands, it’s only worth these four shoddy paragraphs.

This might have been a miss but in the meantime, four potential homerunners have joined the ranks. Of those, L.A. Noire is most likely the safest bet, given that it’s a remaster of a game that was already most enjoyable on the PS3. It’s certainly worth revisiting, especially as the PS4 version includes all the DLC (yup, I rather buy the entire game again than spend a dime on additional digital content.) As for NIS America, there’s two awfully promising sequels. Demon Gaze II is continuation to what I still consider one of the best dungeon crawlers ever while Nights of the Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon capitalizes on the positive aftertaste left by its predecessor not more than a month ago. I’m also slightly excited about Taiko no Tatsujin: Session de Dodon ga Don! which, with its drum controller, gives me the first chance to play Taiko games the way they probably should be played.

Not My Sky

Ummm… Yes?

Since I’m always so fashionably up-to-date with my gaming, I recently dwelled into something as fresh as No Man’s Sky. Smitten by hype, I bought the game on its release day almost a year ago, but back then it only managed to entertain for a couple of hours before getting shoved to the back of the shelf. This past year Hello Games has updated its space epic several times, so I decided to see if version 1.38 at least would make this space charting adventure even remotely meaningful. After about 40 hours played, I sadly have to state that this still isn’t the case.

A new game dropped me off on a planet that was almost 750,000 light years away from the artificial goal that is the very center of the universe. After fixing up my dilapidated spaceship using resources gathered with my trusty handheld mining laser, it was time to bid the dusty planet goodbye, launch to its orbit, and start heading out to new and wondrous galaxies. Surely a grand adventure, if only the game remained fresh and surprising. However, once you’ve seen one planet and one star system, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Each star system consists of a space station and a random number of planets and their moons. On space stations, the player can chat with aliens belonging to three different species, do galactic trade with items and resources, and take on missions rewarded with credits. They include both skirmishes with space pirates as well as various tasks to be done on planets, ranging from repairing broken equipment and locating missing persons to scanning flora or exterminating fauna. When it feels like you’ve seen and experienced everything the system has to offer, various resources can be combined to construct a warp crystal that enables travel to the next star system where… Well, it all begins anew.

The updates have made it possible to create a home base on certain planets, one that can be expanded with a myriad of corridors, rooms, and research stations for which personnel can be recruited from space stations. Also, if slowly walking around planets becomes a chore, the game now features a drivable Exocraft that can be built by developing the home base accordingly. Several light years will, of course, soon separate an avid star traveler and their home base but every space station has a portal that can be used for a quick return. Those into masochism can also challenge the game in a noticeably harder survival mode or even with permadeath enabled.

Despite these little new features, No Man’s Sky remains just plain boring. Its 18 quintillion randomly generated worlds with their randomly generated plants, animals, and habitats are visually distinct but identical in content. The gameplay is insipid repetition of jumping to a new star system only to gather enough resources for yet another warp crystal. The initial ship is only capable of making pathetic jumps of a hundred light years, and even if sporadic wormholes can be used to cover distances 15 times longer than that, it would still take remarkable devotion to reach the center of the universe. Some fun could be salvaged from improving one’s spaceship, spacesuit, and weapon, or trying to learn the languages of the three alien species one word at a time, but No Man’s Sky is still very little else than a humongous bowl of oatmeal that turns all too familiar after a single spoonful. Its platinum trophy only requires hitting an unimaginative and equally repetitious collection of milestones but as for reaching the center of the universe, it never feels like worth the considerable effort.

Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of alternatives. This has been another week of all sorts of interesting releases finding their way to a new home. The visual novel Chaos;Child promises psychological horror, Spintires: Mudrunner is all about big, clunky vehicles challenging impossible terrains, Undertale is supposedly a rather eccentric but also very well-received indie RPG, and Yomawari: Midnight Shadows goes for scares in chibi style. All in all, another jolly and varied late autumn as far as games go!

Fart Art

We probably shouldn’t be here…

Any plans I might have had for this weekend were instantly rewritten on Friday, when the postman delivered my copy of South Park: The Fractured But Whole a few days in advance of its official street date of next Tuesday. As it has already been over three years since the really quite splendid The Stick of Truth, I immediately felt like taking the sequel for a spin. Now, after more than 20 hours and a playthrough, I’m happy to state that the humor of Trey Parker and Matt Stone remains as fresh as ever. That’s not to say The Fractured But Whole would have a particularly novel story, though. While the kids of South Park are still in the middle of their fantasy play from the last game, Eric Cartman suddenly decides that superheroes are the newest, coolest thing ever. And sure enough, in an instant everyone has come up with their own secret superhero identity and chosen their side in a battle between two feuding factions. As simple as that, all of South Park once again transforms into a battlefield limited only by imagination.

As before, the player is known simply as The New Kid, an unvoiced hero (or heroine) who joins Cartman’s faction, wielding the power of – you guessed it – flatulence. It’s a questionable skill but as the adventure goes on, wee little squeaks eventually evolve into massive discharges capable of ripping the very fabric of time itself. In other words, anyone playing the game should go in expecting a huge amount of deliberately crass fart, poop, and pee humor. Still, amid all this vulgarity, the youngsters of South Park once again teach the player to laugh at the incorrigible idiocy of the humankind in all of its forms. Brutally pertinent social criticism leaves no one unscathed, be it racists, bigots, or just people suffering from moral superiority and finding offense in the smallest of things. This wanton but intelligent anarchy is what the game (and South Park on whole) is all about, and once again it works wonders!

Story missions are strewn around town, tackled by a team of four superheroes. During the adventure, the player befriends up to ten familiar South Park characters donning an alter ego, each having one awesome special move and three slightly less formidable ones. The same goes for the player, too. At first, it is only possible to choose from a small handful of character classes but as the game goes on, all skills of ten different character classes become available for mixing and matching freely. As per role-playing standards, there’s moves for doing brutal damage up close and from afar, various healing skills, and a miscellaneous bunch of actions causing buffs or debuffs. Given an eventual pool of 40 different moves, it’s quite easy to find those four that best complement one’s playing style.

Turn-based battles are fought on relatively small grids where everyone tries to position themselves to both dish out damage and avoid taking it. Even more important is to maneuver so that after a character’s turn ends, the next one won’t be blocked from carrying out their actions. Since nothing is sacred, enemies include not just the kids of the opposing faction but also parents, senior citizens, Catholic priests, crooked cops, bums, prostitutes, Korean ninjas, crab people, etc. Those with enough confidence can even challenge Morgan Freeman himself.

Collection fans are pampered with countless ever-so-popular selfie opportunities with the various citizens of South Park. As typical for this age of vanity, they are instantly posted onto the game’s social media, Coonstagram, where the aim is naturally to become the one with the highest follower count in all of South Park. There’s also plenty of yaoi fan art of the series’ beloved boy couple, Tweek and Craig, as well as dozens of costumes, hair styles, scars, masks, accessories, and whatnot. The customization options are so plentiful that anyone should be able to create a South Park look of their dreams. Furthermore, miscellaneous junk picked up from pretty much everywhere is used to craft new costumes, various healing items, and artefacts that enhance the player’s stats.

In broad terms, The Fractured But Whole is kind of predictable but still rather excellent. It holds together not just because of its delightfully prickly humor but also because – and I’m technically contradicting myself here – it never ceases to surprise. Hilarious minigames and totally unexpected scenarios pop up at a breathtaking pace, making it nigh on impossible to get bored at any point. Even if it pretty much just re-invents the wheel of The Stick of Truth, at least that’s a recipe that has already proven itself; after a break of a few years, coming back to South Park was nothing but refreshing!

Other new acquisitions this past week include Culdcept Revolt and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. The former is presumably some sort of JRPG slash card game slash Monopoly hybrid whereas the latter is probably a tough as nails strategy-JRPG. All in all, the harvest season of this year’s gaming crop is so bountiful that my wallet has been weeping for quite some time already, and I really wish that I, too, could fart myself more time. Oh well, at least this is a positive problem.

From Poland with Love

After completing Nights of Azure with all of its trophies and everything, these past few days have been pure R&R. In-between more full-figured projects, I’ve taken quite a bit of liking to Sky Force Anniversary, this month’s PlayStation Plus freebie by the Polish developer Infinite Dreams. It’s a no-nonsense old-school vertical shoot ’em up pitting a lone hero against the massive air, sea, and ground forces of a pronouncedly evil General Mantis. Games like these don’t really need more story than that, so it’s all about wanton fire and turning tons of hostile metal into scrap iron.

Most games in this genre rely on three lives, a whole lot of memorization, and ever-increasing firepower that is quickly taken away by a single blunder. Sky Force Anniversary is notably more compassionate, even if it only provides a single life and pretty much no other pickup bonuses than increased rate of fire. Still, it’s possible to start from any previously unlocked stage, and stars picked up from destroyed enemies act as currency to steadily improve the player’s ship into a true force to be reckoned with. Such options are plentiful from thicker armor, more powerful shots, and homing missiles all the way down to limited use game changers such as lasers, force fields, and mega bombs. The game is more than happy to dish out punishment but the slow and steady grind is what keeps everything fair. Even a failed run is still a stepping stone towards a ship that will eventually allow even the less-gifted pilots to shine. Probably.

Inevitable repetition is also alleviated by stage challenges. They require destroying 70% or 100% of anything hostile, taking no damage whatsoever, and rescuing poor troopers stuck behind enemy lines by floating above them for a brief amount of time. After completing these four requirements (not necessarily during the same run), the stage can be challenged on a higher difficulty level. Even then the number and placing of enemies remains the same; they merely shoot more aggressively. This, too, helps in making Sky Force Anniversary the most refreshing vertical shooter in ages. Usually these games would be entertaining for maybe fifteen minutes, feel “kinda fun” and, if they were arcade cabinets, maybe swallow a quarter or two. In this case, however, the game is so delightfully approachable that hours just fly by.

Sky Force Anniversary also acts as good practice for times to come, as a couple of the latest arrivals are ruthless bullet hell games. Caladrius Blaze is assumably a traditional such shooter whereas Rabi-Ribi combines wild projectile dodging with platforming. As well as these, there’s a bit more semi-retro love courtesy of PS2-action-JRPG Dark Cloud, which makes a welcome return to the shelf. I used to have it as a kid but since I was young and stupid back then, I even sold some of my games. As an adult, such frivolities are thankfully a thing of the past.

Hackety Slash

Somehow I feel Mr. Professor isn’t much of an artist :D

After retiring from my less-than-stellar golfing career, I have resumed kicking some good old demon butt. After only about 20 hours, Nights of Azure pitted me against a really feisty final boss followed by a short and slightly confusing epilogue and then the closing credits. For the third time in a row, I came to the conclusion that this game, too, coaxes its player to dig a little deeper. Even NG+ whisked me straight to the point before the final showdown, and as there are now new side quests and additional bosses all over the place, I’m once again forced to see just how punishing it is going to be to reach a proper ending.

At least until now, Nights of Azure has been pleasantly level-headed. It has been all about frenetic and mindless hacking and slashing throughout the entire game but at least it remains fun and well-paced. Unleashing wild combos and flashy special moves on hapless mobs is therapeutically relaxing, and the puny hordes frequently give way to tougher, appropriately big and nasty bosses. Should Arnice fall in battle, it’s not a game over as the game simply returns her and her Servans back to the hotel with all the experience gained on the way. That is a most welcome gesture, making even the occasional need to grind a breeze.

The cast is delightfully compact. There are only about half a dozen central characters, each given ample time to shine in the numerous cutscenes. Despite mild stereotypes and some repetition, character chemistry works well and is always silly. That’s definitely a plus, given how unimaginative brooding in a gloomy world overshadowed by a blood moon would be. Even if Arnice has to deal with incurable idiots, the comedy is still bad in a good way rather than just plain tired.

It was a bit surprising that only after about a dozen unique Servans, the game stated their collection to be already half done. Then again, it’s almost refreshing that there aren’t loads of them, especially as it’s deceptively easy to always fall back on the same four Servans. Arnice is eventually able to carry four such four-Servan groups, though, and that’s where the game is once again awfully considerate. Even unused Servans get the same amount of experience as the active ones, so leveling up frail newcomers into fighting shape is no bother at all.

At this particular moment I’m banging my head against the first, awfully temperamental extra boss but even if the “post”-game difficulty spike is rather noticeable, I still find myself smiling even when getting thoroughly beaten.

As well as Servans, past week was also about collecting games. The most unexpected surprise was the SNES Classic Mini, which I swore to get only if it would be absolutely effortless and not subject to price gouging. In the end, I picked up mine from the local supermarket during Friday evening grocery shopping, so it couldn’t have been easier. Looks like living in a small town has its benefits. PS1 JRPG Koudelka and the bargain bin PS4 trio of Abzû, Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair, and Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star complemented the backlog that only seems to be growing as time goes by. Oh well, such is game otaku life.

Warming Up

Hey, it’s the participation that counts :P

If Everybody’s Golf sounded a bit drab the last time around, things are slowly starting to look up. At least right now, it feels like it surreptitiously conforms to its player’s mood swings. When approached with indifference, shots end up all over the place and even a humbling bogey can quickly escalate into a +5 catastrophe. With even a little bit of genuine effort, the RNG gods start smiling upon the player, ensuring that even a clumsy swing can turn into something not entirely hopeless. It’s nigh on impossible to pull off a perfect shot due to having to factor in wind, aim, course profile, spin, ground, timing, and luck, but on whole it really feels like the game is more than happy to complement an earnest attempt. Thanks to ever-improving clubs, birdies have become the new norm, and I’m already capable of scoring occasional eagles, too.

The game still has trouble entertaining for more than those 30-60 minutes at a time, but even that is enough to make good progress. One can usually choose between a round of either nine or 18 holes, which last around 10-20 minutes. In single player, the most important reward is experience, which unlocks new VS adversaries. Online, it’s a matter of seeing how well you fare against others both globally and within an automatically selected peer group of nine others. The best players are already beating me by a good 10-15 shots but even if I’m usually near the bottom of any leaderboard, at least there’s a daily challenge course with a participation reward of more avatar customization items.

As a new curio, one beaten VS adversary taught my avatar how to fish, so if golfing gets dull, one can always head to the nearest beach or pond to catch some seafood. Still, even this activity is nothing but mashing a button after getting a bite, so it’s hardly any more interesting than riding golf carts or swimming; they’re all goofy side activities that could theoretically be considered new features but that don’t seem to serve any practical purpose.

Whatever the case, Everybody’s Golf remains a reasonably entertaining title that is easy to visit on a daily basis. Still, it probably works better as a side dish for some slightly more full-bodied gaming experience. Nevertheless, I’m happy to trundle on, if only to some day score that fabled hole-in-one.

Gloomy and rainy autumn weekends are pretty much perfect for staying strictly indoors with a good video game or two. This week saw yet another bunch of hopeful entrants joining the collection. Back in June, I was mildly entertained by Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, which got a sequel, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, just this month. Jolly good release schedule, as it’s always more fun to finish incomplete stories while still remembering something about them. Then again, Mask of Deception was definitely heavy on reading, so for now I think I’ll spend a bit more time indulging in something that has more gameplay.

On Nintendo 3DS, it never ceases to amaze me just how many releases almost manage to fly under my radar. The JRPG duo, 7th Dragon III: Code: VFD and The Legend of Legacy, is a good example, and even if I don’t yet know practically anything about either of them, I have great trust in both Atlus and Sega. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a bit more familiar and rather old by now, but I totally forgot that it got a physical release as well. Thankfully these titles can still be salvaged from here and there to complement my archive of personally interesting games.

Kthxbye

Thank you, Bandai Namco. Never EVER again.

Yawn… Another week, another post about The Idolm@ster: Platinum Stars. Still, this shall be the last of its kind, as listening to cutesy Japanese pop music for six weeks straight is probably enough to drive anyone insane. During this weekend, I briefly felt like I would be able to bid it farewell with grace, dignity, and feeling good. That brief moment of happiness, however, was just the game’s dastardly ploy to remind me that it’s still very much the same sadistic psychopath it has been these past few weeks. Here’s how it ended:

  • 141 hours: Everyone has seven million fans. I wander in the darkness. Nothing matters anymore.
  • 153 hours: Everyone has eight million fans. All is well in grind hell. Carry on.
  • 158 hours: Everyone has nine million fans. I spent all money earned from lives so far to publicity photo shoots. They helped me reach this point almost seven hours early. This producer is now not just tired but also very much broke.
  • 168 hours: Everyone has ten million fans! Could this truly be the glorious end of a long journey?
  • 171 hours: All idols have reached the platinum S rank! It took a while as everyone had to pass a rank up live consisting of three full songs, but it was still good times! Elation and tears of happiness for all! Since the game’s subhead is Platinum Stars, I now feel like I’ve bested it properly.
  • 174 hours: Ooh! Everyone in S rank has a solo live that unlocks a new costume! After almost a hundred hours, the long and dry clothing season ends with a flood of 13 new costumes. However, one costume still remains locked. Because irony.
  • 175 hours: All 20 songs have reached Legend status. In theory, this would have required playing each of them 200 times but at least the game is kind enough to (very) occasionally gift music magazines that shave off 10-30 repetitions. Even then, one probably has to be a bit of a masochist to get this far.
  • 176 hours: All S rank lives thoroughly completed. Since there’s basically nothing to achieve anymore, surely that one last costume would be a fine reward? No? Well sod off then.

Even if I now have plenty of platinum stars, getting the platinum trophy would still require that last costume. I also still need a bunch of vouchers for the local tailor, even if they’re total dicks and only accept them in bundles of five. All this stuff can only be obtained from gift packages that are occasional, random rewards after a live. Even getting a present comes down to luck, and for how it has been for a long time already, they’re almost guaranteed to contain nothing but useless items or duplicate costumes. Since some unlucky players have apparently spent over 500 hours to overcome this last ordeal, I call this farce off on my behalf. Never again shall I meddle with games designed around microtransactions, especially when they’re not even free but full retail.

Triple oasis of refreshment!

Hours spent on that time-waster were all the more agonizing as more interesting games kept popping up in the background. Everybody’s Golf is bound to feature familiar but entertaining casual golfing, Knack 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by being a game that every critic seems to love ridiculing (in itself a good enough reason to buy it), and Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is still very much a mystery to me. Based on hearsay, it’s supposedly some sort of soulmate to Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, but one that doesn’t require you to sink hundreds of hours into it. Especially after my last escapade, that part in particular sounds awfully nice.