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Shovels, shovels, shovels.

I just finished Shovel Knight, and my therapist has been a great help.

 

I haven’t written here in a while, but I think I’d like to do it more. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been picked up by Last Token Gaming, a great bunch of guys with a vision for how a gaming blog should look. That said, sometimes I get a little claustrophobic with the high standard, and I realized that I also enjoy writing stuff while being apathetic to whether or not people actually read it!

Hence, this blog! Hooray!

Now *ahem* Shovel Knight.

Oh yes. He is fabulous.

Oh yes. He is indeed fabulous.

 

Look at that swagger. Look at that swank. Look at that spade and his cerulean sexiness. The aptly named Shovel Knight is here to save the day.

My first impression of the game is that it’s some sort of distant relation to Axe Cop, with names like “King Knight,” “Shield Knight” and the ever-lovable “Tinker Knight.” Turns out, “Knight” is just the new “Man,” and “Shovel” is just the new “Mega.” That’s right, folks. It’s a Megaman clone that puts all other Megaman clones (and some of the Megaman games) to shame. (I’m looking at you, X6 and X7). You fight your way through gorgeous themed levels, with extreme puzzles, tough enemies, secret treasure, and a final boss with their own wiles, dangers, and annoyances.

First thing about this game: its controls are GORGEOUS. I love the simplicity; it can literally be played on an NES controller. ❤ Fast response times, interesting mechanics, cool chargeup moves… this game’s got it all.

Second thing: it is truly and awe-inspiringly gorgeous. It is a pixel-art dreamboat. I can’t imagine how much time it took to draw, animate and put together all of the different levels and enemies, but Shovel Knight’s retro graphics just gave my rapidly aging self a huge nostalgia atom bomb to the feels. It manages to be in different scenes cute, adorable, terrifying and awesome. And there’s this guy:

Half trout, half apple, all pimp.

50% apple, 50% trout, 100% gansta.

On to the next excellent quality of this game: the music. First, I love me some good old retro-sounding chiptunes. “But, Another Gamer,” you wheedle. “Hi-def audio is so IN right now! How can you like beeps and clicks more than EPIC LOSSLESS ORCHESTRAL ACTION?” Listen to the first 5 seconds of this and tell me you don’t have a soft spot for the old-fashioned music.

That’s right. You love it.

There are 46 tunes in the Shovel Knight soundtrack, and all of them are killer in some way or another. They even hired the original composer for Megaman, Manami Matsumae, to do two of them. Leeeeeeegit. He’s one of the ancient giants. But the nicest thing by far, is that you must collect “music sheets” in the different levels through which you travel, to bring them back to the bard in the village for a reward. I LOVED this mechanic for a couple of reasons: 1. It makes the player value the music. 2. It provides an unlockable soundtrack, one song at a time. 3. It puts the music in the foreground! It makes the player pay attention to the music that was going on in the background of their level, makes them listen to it, and then makes them realize how completely and utterly AWESOME IT IS. Mission accomplished. THAT is how you do a soundtrack.

Okay, so graphics, controls, and music are all completely rad. What about storyline? Well… you’re rescuing the lovely Shield Knight from the clutches of the Enchantress, in the Tower of Fate, protected by the Order of No Quarter, which just happens to be 8 knights of differing proclivities that own large, extravagant, deadly castles/airships/submarines in various parts of the globe.

Compared to Megaman games, it’s got plot coming out of its ears. But it’s no Final Fantasy. Just saying.

But I’ve missed talking about the most important part of the game…

Its difficulty.

This is the hardest game I’ve ever played. I beat Ninja Gaiden. I beat Hotline Miami. I played Dark Souls until I stopped. I beat Final Fantasy Tactics and Diablo III on Hell and etc. etc. etc. This is the most punishing, miserably difficult game I have ever played in my short span of existence (with the notable exception of I Wanna Be The Guy, which I don’t count as a game so much as an adventure in masochism). The bosses often pull some unfair crap, and the levels are unbelievably wicked. The same jump has killed me probably… 6 times in a row? And this is on multiple occasions. It’s a brutally challenging game, and because its controls are so responsive, you have nobody to blame but yourself (and the developer, for making the levels so hard).

That said: this game is fun. It’s incredibly fun and challenging and interesting and engaging. It’s funny and witty, complex and rewarding. It’s worth its price tag and more.

~AG

Yeesh. Yeesh yeesh yeesh.

So, in a fit of nostalgia, I decided to go back and play the Megaman X series. That, and a friend of mine happened to have all of them and was willing to entrust their awesomeness to my unworthy console.  Eight games (plus an RPG I think?), eight bosses in each game, that’s 64 levels plus Sigma, Sigma-2, Sigma-3, etc. of platformy, deliciously blow-uppy goodness. Blow-uppy is a word as long as I say it is.

What’s the problem then, Another Gamer? Did you find that those awesome games of your childhood weren’t as awesome in adulthood?

 

OF COURSE NOT, YOU FOOL! X1-X6 are AWESOME. They kick so much ass, SPCA could almost charge them with animal abuse! X was innovative, X-2 built on its predecessor, X-3 was a flawed but amazing conclusion to the SNES days. X-4 was VOICE ACTED OMGSH ZERO’S VOICE IS SO SEXY <333 X-4 was also in my opinion the height of an epic battle between two forces, neither of which was truly good or evil. Very shades-of-grey (not BDSM) for a Megaman video game. X-5 was again awesome, but more for its gameplay innovations than its plot. Having said that, the plot was awesome and involved a giant space station crashing to earth. Rockin’! X-6, like X-3, was a flawed but still pretty awesome conclusion to the PlayStation era of Megaman! (Now, with real awesome Japanese voice acting-desu! Makes it feel more anime-like than any of the previous ones!) And btdubs… I did beat the tutorial level of Megaman X-6 using a Dance Dance Revolution dancepad. Just for the nerd cred. It was hard. I flailed like a fat kid playing Dynamite Rave on Heavy.

 

Hoo boy. Then I decided to start with X-7. What. The. Hell. What? What?? My flabbergasted speechlessness is understandable to anyone who has picked up that godawful game.

I look so natural and realistic!

I look so natural and realistic!

My graphics are polished and not confusing!

My graphics are polished and not confusing!

 

LOOK, MA, I'M IN THREE-D!!

LOOK, MA, I’M IN THREE-D!!

 

Let’s go on an in-depth search for why, in the remake of Star Wars: Episode IV, instead of putting normal trash in the garbage compactor scene, they simply filled it full of copies of Megaman X-7. It’s so bad, nobody would even save Luke, because they didn’t want to leave this game in existence.

  • The game sucks.
  • Bad.
  • The graphics are awful and klunky.
  • The voice acting sounds like it was done in a tin can that was placed in a prefab house driving on the freeway at 65 miles per hour.
  • The voice acting also sounds like it was done by a prepubescent teen with strep throat.
  • The tutorial was awful, and by awful I mean perhaps one of the most awful tutorials ever.
  • The tutorial was not only awful, but it didn’t prepare you for the game at all.
  • The plot was contrived and confusing, with a long introduction about things nobody cares about!
  • The game itself was… just… mind-numbingly awful. It tried to make a 3-D platformer but instead created something that was the awful, hell-spawned lovechild of the worst of the Contra games and Megaman Legends, and then got a hefty dose of radiation on the way out and was born as a mutated nightmare. I cannot hate this game enough.

 

I’m glad we had this talk. Don’t play this game. Please. Seriously. Don’t.

 

See you next week!

~AG

The Birth and Death of the J-RPG

Sorry for not posting on Friday! This idea has been rolling around my head for a while, and it took me a lot longer than expected to get it down!

Kind of a dramatic title, but Japan has dominated the video game market for about as long as it has existed. That’s started to change in recent times, but certainly every big title in the early days came from Japan, from Tekken to Mario to Zelda to Final Fantasy to Bomberman to Street Fighter to Pacman to Poke’mon to… well, you get it! One in particular piques my interest more than the others: Final Fantasy. It is the epitome of the J-RPG (that is, the Japanese Role-Playing Game), and in a large sense has defined the genre of RPGs as a whole. Not much more I can say to make that clearer. You’ve probably heard of them even if you don’t play any video games at all. If you’ve played video games for a long time, you’ve probably worked your way through three or four of these games at some point, and even if you hate RPGs you probably at least had a soft spot for one of them.

They’re a big deal. One of the biggest deals in the whole industry, actually. Moving on.

This crappy montage courtesy of yours truly...

This crappy montage courtesy of yours truly…

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Stuck in LIMBO.

No, I’m not talking about the popular dancing game. (Is it still popular? Is it really dancing? Does anyone besides Hermes Conrad do it anymore?) One sentence in and I’m off topic. That’s a new record. But, oh my god, LIMBO. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an indie platformer game by the Danish production studio Playdead. It’s been out for a couple of years now, but it was recently released again in the Humble Bundle V, which I plugged mercilessly a week or so ago. If you didn’t buy it, shame on you. So, since I’m doing playthroughs of all these games, I figure I might as well keep with the trend.

First thing’s first: in LIMBO, there exists a near-perfect example of what people mean when they say “video games are art.” It’s black-and-white, wordless, in a very “film noir” kind of style. It’s a conscious break from realism, and it works amazingly! The game is gritty, g rainy, and it envelops you totally in its environment. Speaking of the environment: it’s awesome too. It’s very post-apocalyptic, with baddies and destroyed buildings, abandoned factories and run-down hotels. It gives the game an almost survival-horror feel, or, in all honesty, maybe just a “horror” feel. Because surviving really isn’t the number 1 thing on your to-do list in this game. Or, if it is, you’re generally not going to be doing it very well. (Interesting tidbit: the game’s environment tends to go from more natural to more man-made as you progress. It’s so seamless that when you abruptly transition back to a natural setting at the end, it seems very jarring and surreal. Nifty.)

So this whole “surviving” thing. Overrated, right? LIMBO is, well, really hard. I will readily admit that I’m a whiny gamer who doesn’t like super-hard games, and the consequences of death in LIMBO are not as severe as they are in, say, Megaman. Thank heavens. Because you die a lot. And I don’t mean just falling into a bottomless pit. I have been killed in a rather stupendous number of ways. Impaled on spikes, impaled on giant spider-legs, shot by arrows, shot by machine guns, having your guts sucked out, decapitated by beartraps, smushed by falling objects and by pistons, cut into tiny little pieces by sawblades, electrocution, drowning, drowning, and more drowning. Kid doesn’t like water, I guess. When I looked on the Wikipedia article, they quote the studio as calling this playstyle “trial and death,” and they say they use “gruesome imagery for the boy’s deaths to steer the player from unworkable solutions.” Understatement of the year, folks. No, Mario falling into a pit and saying “Mamma mia!!” is steering me from an unworkable solution. Seeing your protagonist die (without any humor at all) in a large number of disturbing ways falls less under the “deterrent” category, and more under the “DO YOU ENJOY KILLING CHILDREN?? WELL, DO YOU?!?” category. Watch the delightful death montage here:

The game is a little bit tough. There are some moments where you die simply because you couldn’t have known how to survive. You didn’t see the giant boulder coming, or know that the gear you were standing on would eventually grind you to bits. Hence the name, “trial and death.” Has a nice ring to it. In all honesty, however, the game itself, on an intellectual, puzzle-solving level, wasn’t too hard, but was WAY more interesting than most puzzle platformers. I gotta say, there were more creative, elegant puzzles in this game, even using mechanics first introduced a long time ago, than in any platforming game I’ve ever seen. Thank heavens for that.

The last thing I’ll mention is that I beat the game in one day. This implies two things: the game is freakishly addictive! (That’s a good thing). And, that the game is a little short. (That’s not such a good thing).  So, looking at it both in its specifics and its overall impressions, I think it’s not a hard conclusion to come to that this video game really is artful: it LOOKS artistic, it was made with artistic intent, and the intellectual stimulation you get from it really provokes thought (as art often does). Hooray for video games!

 

~Another Gamer

P.S. Maybe I should just rename the blog “Hooray for Video Games.” Thoughts?

HERO Week Continues (and ends, really) with music!

Now, if you’ll recall the last post’s heroic exploits and explanations, you’ll remember that we talked about how video game heroes, with a few notable exceptions, are just a little more hero-y than the protagonists of most other storytelling genres (I realize “heroic” is actually a REAL word, but “hero-y” just sounded better in my head. Critics, I swear). We have lots of strong, silent types. People who get the job done. People who, let’s face it, just DON’T die, no matter how much they really ought to. The world of video gaming is a bright and magical place, full of wonder and people with ridiculous amounts of survivability and tenacity. That’s the first time I’ve ever used “tenacity” or any of its conjugations in a way that didn’t refer to Jack Black. And, coincidentally, that makes the perfect transition into the suitably epic topic for today’s post: the music of heroes.

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Levels… so many levels…

I’ve talked about a lot of different aspects of video games, that make them interesting, engaging, brilliant, and, quite frankly, make them art. I’ve written about their music, their gameplay, the innovativeness, and lots of other things that are all wrapped up into the whole of awesomeness that is a good video game. But what I really think bears talking about today is the level design of games in the past, and games today. They’re like night and day, but most people don’t realize this because they’re too busy killing Covenant/Zombies/Foreign Armies/Reapers/Whatever You Happen To Be Shooting At. Read the rest of this entry

How to Play Games and Win Success Forever.

Last post, if you read it, was about learning to play video games/computer games, and how it makes it easier to learn to play new games. It’s all cumulative, and it gets easier every time. Wow, I just summed up like a thousand words into the space of 2 sentences. Maybe I should be doing this on Twitter.

But this post is about something totally different! Promise. It involves a friend of mine, who we’ll call Bob. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone actually has a friend named Bob, but I can assure you that this guy’s name is not actually Bob. So Bob and I hang out a lot, and we play video games together. Since the whole single-console multiplayer thing has basically all but died, we’re limited to Halo, co-op Katamari, and watching each other play single-player games while absently screwing around with Minecraft on a laptop. Now usually this isn’t a problem, but recently we went in halvsies on a purchase of the glorious Mass Effect 3. Now, I’m not going to talk about the day-1 DLC, I’m not going to talk about the ending, I’m not going to talk about how BioWare is selling out and they’re the new embodiment of Satan on planet Earth (have you even LOOKED at Syria recently? Quit yer whinin’).

I know who *I* think looks more evil and dangerous. Hint: They're on the left.

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