Snap Judgements: Quarantine Edition

Hey!  As it turns out, with this whole quarantine thing going on, all those people endlessly hounding me looking for romance actually back off for a bit, which means I’ve actually got some time for my hobbies for the time being.  Now, I’m a man with many irons in the fire, so that doesn’t mean I can devote everything I have to games just yet, but I have been able to get in a bit more time than usual.  And I’ve got some thoughts.  As I do about everything.  And as all my thoughts are, they are absolutely genius.  So I thought I’d share.  My gift to you.  So here’s another installment of Snap Judgements. Many games! Short reviews! Three paragraph max! Let’s go!

Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom

I have to thank Red Metal for this one.  He gave a great review of this game himself, one of his very rare 9/10s, then got it into my hands.  And you know what?  Turns out Red Metal knows what he’s talking about.

So this is an officially licensed and assisted indie-produced sequel to the Wonder Boy franchise.  Fan-made products can be a real mixed proposition.  Enjoying a game, even enjoying a game deeply, doesn’t give you a great insight into how to build one, and the flavor of any creative work requires such a sensitive balance that is not always apparent to its consumer.  So yeah, when you have the fans creating the new media in an established franchise, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it ends up incredibly misguided.  And this game, and I say this as someone with barely any history with the Wonder Boy series, is good.  Even outside the Wonder Boy history, this stands alone as an absolutely fantastic game.  At its core, it’s a very tightly designed Metroidvania built around a character transformation mechanic, where you get a number of different forms with a number of different combat and traversing abilities.  It’s a little hard to describe what makes the game work exactly, it’s just really well-designed.  You get to use abilities in a lot of really creative ways, but ways that they have great visual cues to indicate to you.  Presentation is excellent, with beautiful visuals and music, and gameplay is generally tight.  A lot of it works like a more responsive classic Castlevania, you’re up against a bunch of enemies with rather defined movement and attack patterns while your most reliable attack has a very specific range and spread that you need to manage constantly, although you do have resources and tools to extend of change that range. The world is also generally a joy to navigate, and again, it has some really creative puzzles before you.

Which is not to say there’s not some faults in it.  It does have some issues.  Checkpoints aren’t always convenient, and the game has a big problem with not giving enough health recovery out.  The economy gets to be a bit of a problem in the end game, and you don’t get enough money naturally to get everything you might need or want.  And the ability progression is a little lopsided, to the point that once you get your late game forms and equipment, you don’t have a reason to use the unique features of your earlier ones unless the game forces you to.  But really, it is an absolutely marvelous game, even for someone who’s not a Wonder Boy fan by any means.

Cultist Simulator

This one is really interesting.  Not quite sure how to describe it, exactly.  It’s a card game with a heavy emphasis on resource management wherein time is a major factor both in completing tasks and in posing various threats.  But it’s also a game to experiment and figure out how the various pieces of gameplay work together and what everything means and how to navigate the complex parts of the game.  The opening screen encourages you to experiment and learn as you go, then it drops you in without explaining anything at all and the gameplay itself doesn’t really clue you in to anything.  Normally that’d be the sign of a bad time to come, but honestly, I’m finding it absolutely fascinating in this one.  As I mentioned, the gameplay, it’s workings, the various components of all the cards you get and the abilities you have and how to progress and even how to reach the end are totally non-obvious and it’s on you to figure it out, and I’ve been finding the process of exploring the mechanics and learning how they work to be absolutely fascinating.  

The lore is kind of fun as well.  Big into your character exploring secret powers in a kind of horror-lite environment, and starting a cult, and getting deeper and deeper to they’re otherworldly aims.  My first character was a hospital worker, who met a guy on his deathbed who had some strange knowledge.  The guy left some information to her in his will, which set her on the path to exploring forbidden paths of knowledge and starting up her own cult, at least until she got sick and died because I forgot to do anything about her consecutive illnesses, so… yeah.  Next I played the doctor who was supposedly treating my previous character even though I just forgot to ever take her to the doctor, and his experiences with her led him on the same path she was on.  With more knowledge of how not to die from last time, and a very reliable if not exciting source of income in his job, this guy was able to get farther in the forbidden arts than she was, setting up a cult of his own, recruiting a minion, and sending them out on cultish hijinks while he explored the world of the Mansus in his dreams.  However, while I was staying on top of his health this time, the doctor faced a problem with ever present dread, which I wasn’t able to muster enough contentment to combat, and eventually the dread overtook him.  My next character was a police officer who was investigating the cult the doctor put together, and his first order of business was to take down the doctor’s minion.  He had a file on the doctor, but reading it gave him horrible nightmares, so he purged it from his memory, but still, it called to him.  So I burned the file, inadvertently rendering it impossible to progress in that game.  I spent a while thinking that they had made a really interesting swerve by having you behind the role of a cult-buster, but unfortunately, the game wasn’t really set up for that.  So I scrapped that line and started all over.

By the time I got to my sixth character, I had all the early game figured out, and I ended up playing this character for longer than all my other 5 combined.  I knew how to semi-reliably get the things I needed to keep the timing-based threats at bay, I got a fantastic set of rituals going, and I was progressing through the Mansus and constantly upgrading my pursuit of knowledge.  And it’s a bit ironic, but by the time I had much of the game figured out, it started being a lot less fun.  The mid game is grindy as hell, and success or failure in short-term endeavors often depends on whether you’ve prepared for factors that you can’t see coming until you’re already in the midst of them.  I lost a couple of cult members because I didn’t have the resources for the challenges they were facing that didn’t appear until after I’d already sent them on their mission.  You could make sure you’re over-prepared for everything, but again, that requires a lot of grinding, and some of the things the game asks you can only hold for a limited time.  Again, the game is massively interesting, so much so that I pretty much skipped over all my other games for like a week straight, but you also progress through it at an incredibly slow pace, with lots of repetition, until you get just the right things you need to move forward, and there’s only so much of that my patience can last for.

Broforce

I think this is my favorite of all the games I’ve gotten through Twitch Prime.  If you’ve been reading this for a while, you know I’ve got a taste for big dumb things.  Broforce is the biggest and the dumbest.  

In Broforce, you play as one of like 50 or so randomly selected characters based on classic 80’s and 90’s action movie heroes, fighting through levels filled with terrorists and other threats until you reach the end and deliver American Freedom to the level.  Almost all the terrain is destructable and every character can climb walls, so if you don’t like the path the designers set for you you can make a new one.  One hit kills, although your progress remains unless you lose all your lives, and the game picks a new character for you after every death.  Every character has a different weapon and mechanics, so you’ll have to adjust the way you play frequently.  It ends up being very simple in execution, while still being very fast paced and also requiring a high degree of adaptability on your part.  Enemy design is fantastic, level design is great, and it’s the type of game you can both pick up and immediately play while also having a huge amount of depth to it.  It can be a little frustrating at times, as some of the characters require a specific style of play that isn’t always available, and if that game picks, say, the stealth based James Brond for you when you’re facing clustered groups of enemies, or the aerial Cherry Broling when you’re in tight caves and can’t have her leaping above enemies, or the melee based characters like Bronan the Brobarian against enemies that can fire more bullets than they can deflect, you’re not going to have a great time.  But overall, it’s really a tightly designed, fun and fast-paced action game made with both a lot of love for games in general as well as a lot of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia for the action heroes of years past.  I had a phenomenal time with it.  

A Short Hike

I didn’t know what to expect with this one.  And if you told me what to expect, I’d be pretty sure I wouldn’t like it.  But it’s great.  It’s a really short game, but one that packs in the charm for its short runtime.  

You’re an anthropomorphic bird person and your family goes to visit a retreat at a vacation island.  You want cell service, and the island doesn’t have coverage except for at it’s highest point, so you set out to climb the tallest mountain so you can make a phone call.  As a bird, you can always glide, but to climb a cliff face or to fly upwards, you need golden feathers, which you can get by doing subquests with the other vacationers at the island.  And… that’s pretty much it. Mechanically, at least.  It’d be so easy to do a game following that model, and have it be boring.  This game’s not that, though.  It’s, like I said, really filled with charm.  All the animal-people you run into on the island have really well-written personalities, and are delightfully quirky with excellent dialogue that reminds me a lot of A Night in the Woods.  Unlike that game, though, everyone’s unadulteradedly positive people, too.  It’s really impactful, playing a game where you’re just surrounded by good, happy people.  Even your protagonist, who seems to be the common millennial stereotype, turns out to have some depths to her and doing everything she does for a positive reason as well.  

I can’t say I’m a fan of the game’s visuals.  I get that there’s a nostalgic joy to throwback visual styles, but honestly, I’d rather not use the PS1 as a model for that.  I’m fine with all the sprite styles going back to classic consoles for artificial limitations, but the PS1’s graphical limitations were obsolete even while the PS1 was tearing up the market.  Other than that, though, A Short Hike is a really pleasant time, and it hit me at a moment where I was really needing that.  Highly recommended.

Yakuza 0

So, I’m a huge Yakuza mark, as previously discussed.  I recently decided to slowly play my way through the series again, so I started with the prequel, and am picking it up every once in a while.  I don’t play it so often, and I’m trying to do all the side quests so I can fight the secret megaboss, so I’ll probably be at this game a good long while.  

Anyways, yes, this is a good game.  Not my favorite Yakuza gameplay wise, but it’s still up there.  I really like the way they implement the style-switching mechanic here, where both of your characters have 3 very distinct styles with all their strengths and weaknesses, yet all are viable in basically any situation you come across, albeit in different ways.  I actually find myself putting a lot of thought to how I’m implementing them in a fight, and they combat flows well enough between all the styles that I find myself switching between them often in combat.  

It does really excel in story, however.  I think the writers her really thrived by having more of a base on which to work with this game.  Yakuza has a habit of kicking over the chess table at the end of every installment, and only picking up some of the pieces for the next.  Which does walk a good line between having some continuity between games while also keeping them from being exclusive to those who know whats going on.  In this case, however, being a prequel to the first game and having so much specifically tied into that, I feel they’re able to make a much stronger narrative for it.  In particular, what goes down in this game actually makes the plot of the original Yakuza stronger.  The first Yakuza, (at least it’s original version, I’ve heard the remake also improves on it) had a bit of a problem with many of its major characters, especially its main antagonist, being rather undeveloped.  Kiryu was reacting to having major feelings for characters that weren’t really built up in that game.  Well, they definitely get built up here.  You see how close Kiryu and the guy he would eventually go to prison for were, and how much they meant to each other.  You see how lethally effective the guy machinating much of the conflict in the original Yakuza really was.  And you get more of a sense of just what kind of guy Kiryu’s father-figure is.  And you get to play through what led Majima to become the endearingly-horrifying Mad Dog of later games.  This is a rare kind of story, one that makes the others connected with it even better.  Even on top of that, these guys have had two decades of Yakuza storytelling experience by the time of this game, and it really shows.  You’ve got a trio of villains representing the past, present, and future of Yakuza… as of the game’s setting in 1988. You’ve got one playable character having a great deal of struggle with the pressure to take a life for his own personal benefit.  You see extremes of selfishness and selflessness.  You have tragic heroes.  You have tragic villains.  You have all the excesses Yakuza stories often bring, while also drawing a lot of down to earth moments out of the characters.  

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R

I remember weird game naming conventions coming up a couple of times in those blog award questionny things we’ve answered around these parts.  I’ll need to remember the Guilty Gear franchise if that question comes up again, because there are odd means of naming allover the place.

Soooooo, I’ve always had kind of a secret love for fighting games.  There’s just something about it, the complexity of the mechanics and incredibly high skill ceiling, the huge amounts of characters who, by necessity, all need some degree of storyline focus, and the fact that their plotlines leave huge swaths to the imagination works really well with me, given that my imagination is absolutely great.  However, my whole deal where I don’t really play with other people renders me consigned to playing it single-player, when it’s really playing with friends that these game shine, so I’ve kind of fallen out from them over the years.  But lately, I’ve gotten the chance to play with a friend for the first time in ages, and it woke me up to the beauty of the genre.  We’ve started with this game, I don’t want to type the title again, because this is what I used to play most often, back when I, you know, had other friends, but I’m finding myself interested in the genre overall.  And you know, I had been assuming for years that I was just bad at fighting games, given that I haven’t dedicated the deep study to any given one nor are my reflexes and forethought capable of the 100-hit manual combos and frame tracking and what not those who actually spend time in the online FGC do all the time, but in the kind of play for fun with people I enjoy I’m really looking for out of this?  I’m able to hold my own, even against someone with much more recent experience than me.  Which is really where I want to be.  It’s no fun if one side or the other is always dominating.

Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn

I love Fire Emblem, and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is one of my favorite games of its generation.  I’m not quite feeling the same about Radiant Dawn, its direct sequel, however.  I’m finding it hard to put to words why, exactly.  The experience doesn’t feel as tight, overall.  The overall mechanics are as satisfying as Fire Emblem gets, and I’ve never been a fan of the series permadeath mechanics so the ability to make an honest save in the middle of an encounter is incredibly welcome to me.  The macro level stuff really works.  I feel the decisions on the micro, encounter by encounter level, and some of the plot bits could really have used some further thought, on the whole, then they got.  Path of Radiance, and most Fire Emblem games, really, feel like the opponents and challenges before you are deliberately placed and generally give a good sense of tension and variety.  Radiant Dawn, not so much.  Your opponents feel a bit haphazardly chosen and placed, and fights feel a lot more random in design.

Not helping matters is that the series has you shifting between a couple different armies with wildly different power levels.  You spend the opening of the game as the Dawn Brigade, who are largely new characters and have the levels you typically would expect of Fire Emblem characters at the start of the game.  Then you switch to a bunch of characters from the previous game, at higher levels.  Then another group.  Then finally, you get to play as the Greil Mercenaries once more, a group composed of a lot of the major characters from the previous game who have a relative power-level you’d expect of a team that you probably took through the entire game previously.  All well in good.  But then you’ll jump back and forth between armies often, and man it is weird to be going back in forth between the overpowered Greil Mercenaries one level then jump back to the weakling Dawn Brigade the next.  Not helping matters are that, yeah, there’s permadeath, and the Dawn Brigade only gets just enough members to field a full team in any of its levels, and several of its members are among the weakest the franchise has seen in their respective classes, so if any of your units die or transfer to another army, the weakest army ends up being even weaker in the levels you really need them up to par.

The plot’s a little suspect as well.  I do really enjoy some new highlights being placed on underutilized characters from the previous game, and that game, while it did tell a complete story, Path of Radiance did also leave behind a number of facets that were clearly leading into a sequel.  I have two issues with the game’s story, though.  The first is that it just kind of stalls at a couple of different points.  You go through a couple levels without anything feeling like it’s really advancing.  But luckily, that doesn’t last too long.  The bigger issue I have is that it turns the black and white morality of the previous game on its head, for a bit.  Path of Radiance had the poor, underdog country going up against the evil aggressor.  Radiant Dawn turns that on its head, and starts you from the perspective of that evil aggressor, now conquered and living under occupation.  Adds a lot of good shades of gray to it.  But then it ruins all those shades of gray by having clearly delineated heroes and villains with nothing in between.  The good guys are clearly good.  The bad guys are obviously evil.  I don’t normally mind that.  You can make a lot of fun games and stories that way.  But if you’re going to do shades of gray, have to commit.  You can’t have it both ways.  Personalities and sociopolitical situations are strongly linked, and it feels ridiculous that there’s a lot of moral ambiguity in a situation when the people in control of that have nothing of the sort to them.

Crossing Souls

Here’s another game that’s full of charm, at least in the early- and mid-game.  Crossing Souls is a top-down action-adventure that’s stylized in content and structure after 80’s cartoon movies, at least until things go… kind of off the rails.  You play a group of five kids, each with their own abilities and attributes in your average everytown.  One day, in between fighting off the local Prince-pastiche gang leader and getting into organized combat sports in the trailer park, the group finds a dead body in possession of an obviously magical stone.  Your residential kid genius studies it, realizes it’s the duat, an Egyptian relic with the power to cross between the world of the living and the dead, and also manages to build a device to harness its power.  But some forces want the duat, and they’re willing to go to extreme lengths to get it.  

Such is this game.  I had a really good time with it for the first half or so of it.  Its environments are really interesting, I liked the character, the boss fights are really well done, and it has some nice puzzles and other challenges with it.  It also throws some surprising curves into the plot.  Unfortunately, though, this doesn’t last throughout.  Gameplay doesn’t really develop, so you’re working with the same set of tools at the beginning as you are at the end, and they’re not quite enough to last through the whole 8-10 hour runtime of it.  The game also seems to hit a point 3/4’s of the way in, where it just starts seeming to rush towards an ending.  You get a lot of character death going on, to the point that it lessens the impact any of them have, characters start making obviously bad decisions to move the plot forward, and there are a bunch of revelations that don’t have the build up they need.  The actual ending is bold, but I didn’t have the emotional resolution at it that I think they were going for, and it did feel a little sloppy.  I’ve noticed that more often than not, indie games really crap the bed at the ending, which makes sense, given that endings are one of the hardest parts of the work to get right.  This one at least is better than most, maybe even good in comparison to the indie game average, but still not quite satisfactory.  So yeah.  Good first half, but doesn’t quite bring it home.

Astral Chain

I’ve never met a Platinum Game I didn’t like.  I mean, I have avoided the ones that had a bad reputation, such as their adaptations of western cartoons, so that’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but still, it’s been pretty reliable.  I play something from Platinum Games, I have a great time.  Astral Chain is no different.  

When I picked it up, I was expecting something like Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising Revengeance.  Astral Chain’s not that.  It doesn’t have that level of complexity, nor require that much twitch reflexes. Well, that much, really. You still have to be ready with the dodge button.  Rather, it requires you to adapt to a whole new type of combat, where you’re half-controlling another character in addition to your own main, and using them in conjunction with each other.  Which ends up being more intuitive than it sounds. I find the combat is really fulfilling as a whole, the enemies are particularly well designed to where it takes some time to figure out how to actively combat them, but once you do, you can handle them with aplomb.  Gameplay is thrilling overall, and you feel like an absolute badass when you overcome enemies.  I find the out of combat gameplay to be interesting too, albeit there are some times where it stretches on too long.  People around your base always have something new to say, and I enjoy some of the investigation segments, where you’re doing detective work to track things down or resolve sidequests.  Also, it lets you dress up your main character using the outfits and colour schemes you unlock.  Any game that lets you play dress up will gain several extra points in my book.  The characters, setting, and plot are all anime as hell, so your mileage may vary with that, but I’m finding it to be an absolutely great time.  One of my favorite things I’ve played in a while.

8 responses to “Snap Judgements: Quarantine Edition

  1. I also didn’t expect to like A Short Hike that much, but it was really refreshing to have a game that was positive like that. Speaking of how those characters looked and the comparison to Night in the Woods, I have that game too, but I haven’t been able to get past the first hour yet. I’ve heard great things about it, and I need to take another shot at it. So far the protagonist has really pissed me off on a basic gut level, but I get the feeling that that’s intentional and is going to play into the plot somehow.

    Path of Radiance is an old favorite, but you’re right about that commitment to the system of morality the game’s going with. I remember Path of Radiance being very black and white in that sense, which worked fine. Trying to have it both ways by adding complexity but not wanting to actually apply that to your characters is no good.

    I know I’d like Astral Chain and the Yakuza games, so I’ve got to couple at least a couple of those on my list.

    • Yeah, I’ve seen a playthrough of Night in the Woods, but… I don’t know, that’s just a game that seems more fun to watch than play. I got the same feeling from the protagonist as you, she’s a bit selfish and irritating, although it does go places at least.

      And yeeeeeeeessssssssss. Get Yakuza. Punch faces. Join usssssssssssss. I need someone who gets it when I post about it, at least.

  2. I’m shocked how much I enjoyed Astral Chain! I picked it up not knowing anything at all about it. I’m playing on the easy setting so I feel extra badass in combat, haha.

    • Yes! Astral Chain is awesome! And I think I know what you mean, I had to play Bayonetta, my first game from Platinum, on easy the first time through, as well. They make demanding games, but easy builds the skills well enough.

      • I still haven’t gotten around to playing Bayonetta (or the billion other games I want to play to be honest, haha) but it’s on the list now!

  3. Hey! I’m glad you liked Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom so much. The 2010s was a weird decade for Metroidvanias in that one could argue it was the single greatest decade for the genre thus far, yet it was a horrible decade for both of those franchises with Metroid starting off with the disastrous Metroid: Other M and following that up with Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Konami torpedoing all of their franchises – Castlevania included. Naturally, the reason why the genre managed to do well in spite of that major setback is because the indie scene was around to pick up the slack. The Wonder Boy franchise was always kind of a mishmash of incredibly good ideas and incredibly bad ones, so it was really cool finally seeing such a polished experience emerge from the franchise. They threw a ton of interesting ideas into this game and nearly all of them work really well; it’s quite astonishing. Then again, series creator Ryuichi Nishizawa did have a hand in making it because interestingly enough, he owns the rights to the franchise, so even if it took longer than expected, this story had a happy ending.

    Path of Radiance is definitely one of the series’ highlights for me as well. I would go as far as considering it the single best game that follows the series’ traditional, linear format. Radiant Dawn occupies a strange place with me because I do think that it’s a good game and a worthy follow-up to Path of Radiance, but it does have some serious problems. I really like that you switch perspectives so you’re fighting on both sides of the same conflict in Part 3 (and at the risk of tipping my hand a little, I’ll say it handled the idea much better than a certain other game I played very recently that I intend to review soon), but it messes with the pacing. It doesn’t help that the teams are not balanced well with Micaiah’s boasting growth rates that don’t meld with their classes and Elincia’s having horrid availably. I kind of think of it as the Fire Emblem equivalent of Return of the Jedi in that, yes, it is a step down from its superior predecessor, but it does a good enough job wrapping things up that you really can’t play one, but not the other.

    I definitely agree with you in that the early PS1 style is one that hasn’t aged well. It looked fairly impressive for the time, but it has aged worse than the NES 8-bit style – probably because early 3D would now invoke the Uncanny Valley effect while 8-bit sprites generally don’t. Nonetheless, I think I’ll keep an eye out for A Short Hike because it does sound like it captures the best aspects of the late-2010s indie scene.

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about Platinum Games, though I don’t think I’ve actually played any of their output. Nonetheless, if it’s one thing I really admire about them, it’s that they really do have a true passion for the medium – one that I think is all but dead in the American AAA industry. They make unapologetic games, and that’s something I can get behind. I’m going to have to check out Astral Chain.

    • Yeah, I feel like Metroidvania is a genre that’s really benefited from the indie surge, with the former major publisher frontrunners in the genre not really doing things. Honestly, there’s a lot of genres like that, and it’s been a beautiful thing. Especially when you get games as good as Monster Boy out of them.

      I do really like Radiant Dawn having you play two opposing sides of the conflict. That situation is dripping with dramatic irony, and it’s great. And you do get a real thrill when your playable characters show up as bosses to the other side. It does reach a point where they could resolve the conflict between them just by talking about it, and they get veeeery close to being able to settle it out between them, but that’s part of the dramatic irony and the simplistic characters as well, that makes it all work. Radiant Dawn being the Return of the Jedi of the series is a really apt metaphor. I’m having a lot of fun with it, albeit not as much as I have with most of the other Fire Emblems I’ve played.

      I’d definitely recommend A Short Hike, albeit only when it’s on a deep sale. It’s a great game, but it’s $15 MSRP for something that lasts an hour. I got it through an Epic Games giveaway, so I can’t complain, but I’d wait until you can get it for a couple bucks.

      Yeah, Platinum Games has a really obvious passion for games, and it really shines through in their product. They make what they like to make, and they’ve definitely got a certain style, but if you’re into it, it hits that spot with aplomb.

  4. Pingback: August 2020 in Summary: Hot Potato! | Extra Life

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