Friday, September 19, 2014

What I'm Playing: November '13 - April '14 - Part 2: Games Started

at 6:00 PM
In this feature, we commemorate games I have for the first time started and finished in the last few highly variable time units.

I am wildly behind here. This post was mostly drafted back in April when its companion piece was published, so I'm going to cap off the untouched games with perfunctory summaries so I can quickly take care of May and then all the months I failed to track.

Games Started:

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 (Xbox 360)

I can't say I've ever had an opinion on Dynasty Warriors, having only played/enjoyed Mystic Heroes - and that at a time before I had any exposure to modern 3D combat. Unfortunately I loaned my copy of Mystic Heroes to a friend with whom I shortly thereafter had a complete falling out, which only goes to proves the old adage: don't loan games if you want to have a strong opinion about Dynasty Warriors. For many years Greg L. refused to loan me games for exactly that reason. Eventually one day he caved and let me borrow his copy of Star Fox 64 and, quickly realizing that he still had a strong opinion about Dynasty Warriors, learned it wasn't so bad after all. Which just goes to disprove the old ad

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 doesn't have anything do with being a regular action game (i.e. Devil of Cry, God May War). Not sure why anyone would talk about the combat in those terms. It's an arena fighting game with a light real-time strategy backbone. Each player starts with a base at their end of the arena and move across the map, capturing territories as they go, with the primary goal of conquering the enemy HQ. The players (or the player commanders and the CPU commanders) are equally matched when they come face to face in attacking/defending zones. Those giant hordes the series is known for actually aren't the main combat - they just provide an interactive life bar for zones. Instead of standing on a flag while a timer ticks away to signify "capturing", DWG3 requires you to chop through X amount of cannon fodder robots - before an enemy commander can kill you or drive you away. The whole thing would make a perfect competitive multiplayer model - it's almost exactly a MOBA - and I don't know if I've missed the game where they did that or if they're just not going to because Japanese.

Not really a Gundam fan, just grabbed this one because it was (at the time) the most recent Dynasty Warrior

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES / Wii VC)

This game's pretty awesome, it's far better that Zelda I: The Adventure of Zelda. Solid action combat that mixes up one-on-one brawling mentality for Iron Knuckles et al with the larger scale action platforming sensibility of a Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden for larger rooms and caves that have you dealing with a fixed enemy layout built around a level architecture that you can't just run through. There's also a satisfying risk-it-or-lose-it RPG questing structure granted by the tight life limitation that gives the game a Dark Souls pace.

XCOM: Enemy Within (Xbox 360)

This is an expansion of Enemy Unknown, but there are so many new ways to develop your trooper corps that the game takes a different shape even from the beginning. Considering that Unknown was one of my favorite games of the last couple years with a fantastic combination of tactics, survival horror, and sim gameplay, it's not like I need an excuse to play again. But giant mech troopers and biological supermen are a great excuse anyway. It might just be that I'm rusty, but it definitely seems like the game's gotten harder to compensate for the new player capabilities. As much as it breaks my heart to see a soldier die, the fact that it gets such a response is exactly what makes this game great.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

Sure is convenient having a roommate with a Wii U. Don't have to buy stupidconsolewithnogames but still get to play Mario. I had a blast playing through the first eight worlds of 3D World (in fact I guess this kinda coulda gone in Games Finished), as the game was loaded with all kinds of gimmicks and tricky puzzley bits leading to collectibles.

I can complain that it felt on the thin side, but this is a solid action-platformer that fills the dimensional niche between New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy 2, so just in regards to the way it utilizes 3D space I think its worth investigating. Of course, that's me who's only played 2 of 4 NSMB games and skipped Super Mario 3D Land, so I may be fresher than the true Mario die-hard who is approaching this game with a fair amount of world-weariness. It's definitely too safe to feel like a worthy successor to the 3D Mario legacy, feeling instead like a spin-off game.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)

So far this game had two surprises for me: 1.) just how insignificant it is to have access to all the weapons from Scene 1 and 2.) just how significant a goofy gimmick like the wall-walking actually managed to be in shaping dungeons. While it's nice to rent weapons and the idea offers a tiny bit of improvisation potential, the overworld isn't actually any more open than previous games like Link to the Past, in that the price of rental is totally trivial (you will have all the weapons all the time) so the actual important parts of the world are just locked off beyond stuff not related to the weapons. Improvising dungeon order isn't that cool either. What is cool is that now that Link has a timed ability to cross gaps, moving platforms of all sorts have been incorporated into dungeon layouts, making this the "platformer" Zelda (I suppose in addition to Zelda II of course).

Earth Defense Force 2017 (Xbox 360)

Not since Jet Force Gemini has ant discrimination reached such lethal levels with such drastic consequences. EDF 2017 is categorized as a third-person shooter, but due to the lack of cover and the sheer volume of enemies, it takes on a different feel than what is the prevailing style of the genre (games like Max Payne 3, Gears of War, and Transformers: War for Cybertron).

A small handful of games has always stood out in my head as "the non-cover shooters", though design-wise they remind me most of 2D eight-directional shoot-em-ups like Robotron 2084, Smash TV, Total Carnage, and Shock Troopers. 3D shmups is I guess what I'd call them: DOOMResident Evil 4, Lost Planet, now EDF 2017.

3D Space Harrier (Arcade / 3DS eShop)

In space, no one can hear your hair. Hence the birth of 3D Space Hairier, a 3DS port of the arcade classic that incorporates stereoscopic third-dimensional viewing into the gameplay of this rail-shooting arcade classic. The port also adds touchscreen controls that I found far too touchy to be usable. Anyway, this is still Space Harrier. That old game of basically Star Force with a Z-axis. As much as I like Space Harrier, after all these years I still can't figure out how to play well past the seventh level or so without simply memorizing the layouts - I just can't see what's happening.

3D Galaxy Force II (Arcade / 3DS eShop)

Closer to Star Fox than Space Harrier and closer to Panzer Dragoon than Star Fox, the arcadey shooting here is pretty fun but never "takes off" and is hampered by a kinda lame Adventure Island-style mixed health bar / timer (that runs down through the entire game, not just each level) that could only belong to an arcade game.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (Xbox 360)

What I was most impressed by here was the flow of the story and the game environment and how successfully it evoked the escalating madness of classic comic events like the original debut of Venom or Maximum Carnage.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (Xbox 360)

I am a Lords of Shadow fan so it is no surprise I like this one - short of the Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry series, this is as good as modern melee action gets - what it lacks in gimmicks it makes up for in the challenging and deep enemy design that earns it the Castlevania name. Okay the stealth segments are wildly unnecessary but they're at least scarce. One of my favorite things about this game is how off-the-rails the art design goes, evoking the grotesque horrorscapes of 2D classics like Ninja GaidenSplatterhouse, and Super Ghouls n' Ghosts. I can forgive the use of an interconnected world over the preferable level structure of the first game just because there's so much cool stuff to see.

Hexen (PC / Steam)

Hexen is one of the earlier first-person combat games that was focused on the combat rather than the RPGing (opposed to Ultima Underworld or Elder Scrolls: Arena) - while the combat is more basic than I'd like, the game is set in hub-based mazes which is nice if not fun.

Don't Starve (PC / Steam)

This one really took off. I'm glad to see that's the case, not because I'm particularly in love with the game, but because I've been following Klei for a while now and want them to stay in business for as long as possible. The Shank games were some of the best 2D action of their generation and Mark of the Ninja's stealth platforming worked on every level. I'm guessing the games did well enough (Shank got a sequel after all), but they were never all that recognized. There's no question about Don't Starve though, I'm still seeing that in the news pretty regularly. Maybe it's because it was a solid game in the early PS4 field, but more likely it's because...

Don't Starve is a carefully crafted exploitation of every addictive game trope of the last five years. The game is Minecraft + Farmville + Diablo + (the catchy art of a) Braid or Limbo. While it's great fun to play and its varied inspiration does translate into varied gameplay, it's almost cynical in execution. Procedurally generated environments? Check. Reset player progress after failure? Check. Tedious harvesting for huge quantities of materials? Check. Crafting that in turn makes harvesting quicker/safer? Check. Building bases/farms to increase the rate of production? Check. Rare dungeons with huge rewards and extremely high risk? Check. It follows the model of these folded games where the goal of the game is actually to be able to continue to play the game, with the illusion that you're playing "better" as you keep going.

The best twist of Don't Starve is the adventure element, the mysterious world that makes you want to survive so you can keep uncovering its secrets. Minecraft fell flat because the world was so plain that after 3 hours you'd seen everything and all that was left was to play Legos. The weird altars and wormholes and pig huts scattered throughout Don't Starve suggest something larger at play, and while I've yet to survive long enough to uncover it, it's enough to give purpose to a good run.

Master of Darkness (Game Gear / 3DS VC)

Leave your shame at the door, because tonight we're ripping off Castlevania without abandon. Mr. Society or whatever is the weird dude you control fighting off yet more famous movie monsters in this competent but unengaging action platformer.

Counterfeit Monkey (PC / Gargoyle)

Yes, it's America's very first original text adventure, 2012 or 2013 or something's Counterfeit Monkey. I've only dabbled in text adventures, and almost beat Wishbringer like that once, but I always thought I liked them. I mean, I still think I like them. The old Infocom ones, that is - the ones where you can screw with anything and ruin the whole game and the dialogue is funny and the game is self-aware. Monkey showed me that there is a lot to hate in this style of game, predominantly when it's used as an interactive novel that simply requires you to type "N" instead of turning a page. As far as I played there was nothing wrong with the puzzles - they quickly became predictable and a bit easy, but I've been told other mechanics are introduced that spruce things up further down the line. Aside from the fact that the humor didn't work on me and the characters severely grated, my biggest problem with the story that eventually caused me to give up was simply that I wasn't drawn into the world - it felt more like someone had come up with some wacky rules for a game and then struggled to piece together a story that could somehow support them. While author Emily Short did a respectable job in making that world functional, I didn't particularly find it engaging, relying too heavily on cliches like totalitarian regimes and surly sailors. 

Soldier Blade (Turbografx-16 / Wii VC)

Bigger enemies, less stupid weapons, and better level variety makes this the best Soldier game I've played.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure (GBA / 3DS VC)

I dunno I only played the tutorial and it was like a puzzle game which wasn't what I thought it was.

Adventure Island (NES / Wii VC)

I played this as part of a project that you'll all soon be experiencing for yourselves from a first-person narrative perspective. It's really hard but a lot of fun and I think kinda underrated. Maybe. It's true that it's not as original as Mario or deep as Sonic, but it hits a middle stride for people that can't quite handle all the action of Ninja Gaiden, and it makes modern retro platformers like Super Meat Boy and Dustforce look redundant (as redundant as something declaredly retro can be).

Adventure Island II (NES / 3DS VC)

Same. You'll read about this soon. The much underplayed sequel.

Metal Black (Arcade / Taito Legends II)

Crazy ass arcade shmup with Darius roots that has fantastic boss design and such great music and visual style that it is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites.

Taito Legends (PS2)

I mostly got this for the Space Invaders games, though the surprise hits of the collection were Gladiator, an early scrolling action/fighting game, and Rastan, a pretty tight action platformer.

Taito Legends II (PS2)

Incredible collection of shmups on here - Metal BlackRaystormDarius GaidenG-Darius, and Grid Seeker, not to mention a handful of unexpectedly decent action plaformers and beat-em-ups.

Shatterhand (NES)

One of those buried treasures that is buried for good reason, Shatterhand has a very awkward gimmick (floating sentinel power-ups) that leave it with watered down shooting and watered down platforming.

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