Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Not the right price

I have always liked Metal Gear games but not for the same reason that I think most other people enjoy them. The machismo melodrama always gets me. I damn near wept at the end of MGS3 and felt like saluting at the end of MGS4. Gameplay was always good enough to get me from cut scene to cut scene and, best of all, the stealth was almost always optional. Yes, Snake could sneak around in the style of the early Splinter Cell games, but if the situation called for it or if the player got lazy he could throw down, shoot a bunch of dudes, and move on with the game.

Guess which option I went with on more than one occasion. I never went back through levels to see all the little details that Kojima hid in silly places. I played the game with story blinders on - nothing to either side or off of the main path mattered.

They could get sappy and frustrating and incomprehensible but they have alway been enjoyable. Enter MGSV: Ground Zeroes. It is all these things in a tight little package that, and I hate playing the economics card, should have been half the price. It is the equivalent of a single mission that supports multiple play throughs (that I did most of, a big step for me). I am just very happy that I did not spend any money beyond my Gamefly subscription to see it.

The idea is sound, the price point is just a little too high. Imagine if Konami hadn't sold Zone of the Enders as a pack in with the MGS2 tanker level.

Monday, April 28, 2014

How to pass the time

Not much gaming wise to talk about. Deception IV finished up over the weekend. It has a difficult time conjuring up a final boss that did not break its own system. Instead it threw out on magician who was immune to almost everything and called it a game. There are four different endings and around one hundred 'missions' which are just single encounters with impossible conditions. I have had my fill and it was fun while lasted. These games only come around once every few years, which is probably a good thing.

This left me with a lot of extra time to fill. I played about six different XBLA demos, none of which ended up being worth purchasing. The new Trials game came the closest but I predict that it would drive me crazy much too quickly to be worth $20. I tried to play more Mercenary Kings. It is a game that I want to like, but it just isn't going to happen. Every moment the game is on it makes me want to play Metal Slug 3.

So it was Killer Instinct followed by more Killer Instinct. Interest in the game has remained high which equals lots of different people to play against. Some of them good, some of the terrible, most of the hovering right around the same level as me. The ranking system actually does a very good job of matching you up with people of like ability. I hover between 9 and 11 (out of 40, I am not very good) and anyone I play in that range provides a good match. Too much below and I crush them and too much above and I am the one who is crushed.

Skill tiers have always been a thing in fighting games. As Killer Instinct has aged they have become more and more pronounced as there is technology known to but a few that renders everything before them obsolete. Beginners stick with opener - auto double - ender, never break, counter break at the wrong time, and in general are just flailing around. The mediocre, which would be be, are smart enough to vary their auto doubles but still don't use many manuals, know which enders to use, break sometimes and successfully counter break about half the time.

The truly skillful don't use auto doubles until the opponent is locked out, break everything, counter all your shit and then drink your goddamn milk shake. This makes skill gap games ugly. Really ugly. I got hit with a perfect last night. It was, to put it lightly, demoralizing. I fought a rank 30ish Sadira and no idea what the hell was going on. That bastard was never on the ground long enough for me to land a hit.

I do have one super secret weapon that was on display in the video I posted last week (correction: it was not, I will try to find an example). Thunder's throw shadow ender puts opponents into a juggle state. From there I can tag on three or four more hits for minimal damage. These hits can be broken, but this also means they can be counter broken. He is how it works: I always go for the extra hits the first time I land that specific ender, even if it after the end of a round and the hits do nothing more than give the other guy meter. If he bites and breaks it, which they do about 50% of the time, it's on.

The next time I land that combo I will drop a counter breaker in after the first juggle hit. When it works, and it usually does, the resulting combo tops out around seventy five to eighty percent damage.

It. Is. Delicious.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Trying just a little too hard

Deception 4 is a perfect example of developers doing more than they needed for a sequel. Deception games, in concept, have never been very complicated. Enemies wander into room, player kills them in grotesque ways. Repeat until bored - they were always fun while they lasted but had the common sense to not last too long. All Deception 4 had to do was more of the same with better graphics and a few new traps and the (un)faithful would be satisfied.

Improved graphics and a better physics engine have been delivered. Prior Deceptions existed completely on a grid. It didn't matter where a trap hit a victim, if it hit the results would always be the same. This made planning out trap combination very easy. This time location does matter - bodies get caught on door frames, traps run into one another, it all feels much more physical and looks quite painful. When a six trap combo goes off without a hitch it is almost embarrassingly satisfying.

Tecmo did not stop there. Traps are now divided up into three categories - elaborate, humiliating, and sadistic. Use of each is graded separately as a way of encouraging the player to experiment. The problem is that the humiliating traps just don't do much damage and there is almost always a better choice in one of the other categories. It is my own fault for trying to be too efficient, but one third of the traps just never get used.

It was a good idea but one that was not needed. More effort should have been put into the room traps which are not as good as they were in previous games. Almost every room has them and either I can't figure out how to use them or...



Yeah, I can't figure out how to use them.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

XBox One upload to YouTube works

It uploaded it to the wrong channel. A channel which features *gasp* my real name. I can either get over it or crawl into a hole and hide. Flat screen televisions are difficult to fit into a hole, so there you are.

Behold, a double KO in KI, something that I have only seen once.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Evil cleavage

Nothing accompanies personal melodrama and malaise like a Deception game.

Last night I lured some poor fool into a hidden bear trap, knocked him sideways with falling axe and then dropped a boulder on his head. The next person stepped on to a launching pad, had a pumpkin dropped onto his head and then wandered into falling spikes. Each contraption was more sadistic and ridiculous than the last and they made me smile every time.

There are problems: trap placement take more fiddling around than it should, the camera is almost always terrible and the characters' outfits are, shall we say, in poor taste.


...for some reason I have a thing for girls with two different colored eyes.

Ahem.

It fits in the same space of Time and Eternity, that is to say it is about as Japanese as a game can get. Thankfully Deception is not nearly as cute as Time and Eternity was. The not so subtle evilness of the past games is still here. You are still a minion of the evil one, luring people to their death. Right now the people dying all 'deserve' it but I will not be surprised when the righteous and innocent start ending up on the end of a spike or under a flame thrower.

I would not mind it if everyone involved was wearing more clothing, but that just means that I will never admit to having played the game.

Wait a minute...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Work. Bleh.

I played all the way through Lego The Hobbit over the weekend and have little to say about it. It another Lego game that was fun but not as good as Marvel. The series may have peaked.

I am also quite drained from several hours of tedious, repetitive work and have very little to say about anything else. Sometimes posting feels like work and I wonder why I make time for it. Why take a break from work for more work when I could turn my brain off for a few minutes and zone out to YouTube.

Not that the phone ever leaves me alone long enough for that, either.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An annulment

The Witch and the Hundred Knight and I parted ways last night. It was not on good terms, irreconcilable difference and all, but I will not disparage it for being what it is. I knew that Nippon Ichi was on the same short list as From Software of developers whose games I acknowledge the quality of but have no patience for. An action RPG was worthing looking at anyway, but no, their brand of fun is not the same as mine. There is a market out there for this kind game; it is small and they might all have body pillow waifus but far it be it from me to give anyone crap for liking what they like.

I played Magus all the way through, my opinion is invalid.

It was an easy decision to stop playing because what I did not like about it was very specific and was not going to change. Combat is both simple and constantly obscured by damage pop ups, and yes, I looked and there was no way to turn it off. Fighting three enemies simultaneously filled up about one quarter of the screen with useless information. This is a holdover from Nippon Ichi's turn based games, and in those they make sense, but here they are a constant annoyance.

Like any other action RPG there is loot to be gathered, equipped and then used to obtain new and better loot, only new equipment cannot be equipped until the end of a level. When the hundred knight finds a new sword instead of using it he eats it. There it sits, in his stomach, alongside other items and all the experience he gains in the level until the area is complete. Dying does not make you vomit up your hoard but this delayed gratification drove me crazy. Part of what keeps a good action RPG moving is the advancement of weapons and armor. Getting a new axe can be the highlight of an otherwise grinding level. Hundred knight does let you actual use anything right away. Its advancement comes in spurts which kills the fun.

'Don't eat the axe, use it!' I would yell. The hundred knight responded with various Pokemon sounds. He didn't care.

For the right person with the right amount of time and tolerance for odd design choices The Witch and the Hundred Knight should be a good investment. Personally I am in the mood for something much more cheap and easy, like a Lego game.


Oh shit, she still wants half my stuff.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A man of wealth and taste

Lords of Shadow 2 improved significantly as I put more time into it. I adjusted to the soft combat, learned the range of Dracula's whip, and was soon pulling off strings of attacks that would make Dante jealous. Experience was scarce enough that I had to choose which of the weapons to dump points into. I was just barely able to max out the whip and sword before the game ended, leaving the chaos gauntlets untouched and barely used. No big loss: the whip did damage and the sword drained health from enemies. That was plenty to get me through.

The real star of the show ended up being the plot, specifically how Gabriel starts out as Dracula and works his way back, personality wise, to Gabriel again. He's still a vampire, he just isn't out to destroy all of humanity any longer. He and Alucard walk off into the sunset of future downloadable content and a next generation sequel (hopefully).

It is difficult to be more specific without spoiling the plot, suffice to say that I bought into Gabriel's suffering, how he regretted many of his choices and how he blamed God for most of it. Everything he touched became a casualty of either his own evil or other's quests to destroy him and he was tired of it. His change from warring against humanity to taking up arms against Satan is not really a 180, more of a lean from one side to the other.

Gabriel is not good, but he is not evil either. When Satan offers to share the world with him he declines but it is not religious altruism that guides him. He just has no love for Satan.



Who are they going to use as the bad guy for the third game, assuming there is one?

...

I dipped my toe into The Witch and the Hundred Knight over the weekend and was not exactly pleased with what I found. Nippon Ichi games have always frightened me away on account of their depth and time commitment. I had thought that this one would be different as it is an action RPG instead of turn based.

NOPE.

There are menus in menus in menus. Very little is explained with any depth. Yet the combat is little more than mashing attack while attack numbers completely obscure what you are trying to attack. All the work is in menus (in menus in menus). Excel spreadsheets, the game.

Granted, this was after little more than an hour of tutorials and very late at night. I will try it again but I do not think I have the stamina at my advanced age for this kind of game. Especially when there is stupid fun like Lego: The Hobbit waiting to be played.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fulgore?

I don't think I understand Fulgore's design. The other seven characters are easily pigeon holed. Sabrewulf and Orchid are rush down, both with good mixups on block. Thunder is also rush down, but with a good long hitting low and command throw that can be really damn cheap when used correctly. Sadria spends more time in the air than any other character and is all about not knowing which side an attack is going hit. Glacius is Dhalsim minus the teleport, worthless in most peoples' hands but very good at higher levels. Spinal is a gimmick character and Jago is Ryu, working from both close range and up close.

And where is Fulgore? He does many of the same things that Jago goes. At first blush it appears that Jago does them all better plus Fulgore does not generate meter the same way other characters do. I like that his meter building is different and the ability to cancel one special into another at the cost of one 'pip' is pretty cool but I am not convinced that he is actually any good. He only has two openers and the dash punch (I think) is not safe on block. Translation: I had a hard time getting in with him and sitting back with fireballs works until the opponent remembers to jump or that some attacks are fireball immune.

After an hour I threw in the towel for the night, reverting to Thunder to gain back my lost ranks. I have not given up on Fulgore, I just need people more talented than myself to do some work with him. If I wanted to play Jago I would play Jago. Fulgore, right now, is just Jago with a cool costume and fewer manuals.

...

Medium in the new Arcade Mode is bullshit. Three characters in and I gave up. It breaks everything.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Did that connect?

I need to amend my description of the combat in Lords of Shadow 2. Good combat has some weight to it. The player knows when he or she hits an enemy and, more importantly, the enemy behaves like it has been hit, recoiling slightly from a light hit and getting knocked on its ass by a big one. Without tactile feedback the way it looks is all the player has to go by. The Arkham games are a perfect recent example. When Bats cracks a guy in the jaw everyone winces, including the guy pressing the button.

Dracula attacks have no meat to them. It feels like I am annoying the enemies with a giant, evil wet noodle. They will stop my string of attacks with their own, effectively no selling Dracula's strength.



No offense to the Ultimate Warrior, who died today, but damn man. The effect is the same: the enemy does not look like it is taking damage so the attacker appears weak and the player gets frustrated. What saves Lords of Shadow 2 is that there really isn't much combat. Long stretches of the game are simply exploring the real world or the ancient castle. This is when the game shines: the environments are large, moody, and fun to poke around in. Enemies are a distraction from this instead a highlight to it.

Games can have it both ways, see God of War or Bayonetta for examples. Lords of Shadow 2 gets just as much right as it gets wrong and may end up being forgettable for it.

Side note: the opening sequence filling in the time between Lords of Shadow 1 and 2 is the best kind of fan service. It incorporates most of the previous games while hand waving the unimportant details. I was completely sold on the premise of Dracula coming back in the present day which makes the game not delivering all the more painful.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The expectations game

What's worse: the aforementioned seventy deaths in sixty minutes to a multi-stage boss that had the decency of not starting the player over from the beginning with every death or eight deaths in ninety minutes to a multi-stage boss that laughed in the player's face with each death, erasing all of their progress and starting them from the beginning each time? They are both bad, the second worse than the first, and Yaiba trotted them both out. The final boss was amusing, almost funny, on the first attempt. Then I died and had to see it all again. Section one took about five minutes and that section was repeated over and over, each time I died. It was just as much if not more of a chore than Ryu Hayabusa who killed me in an average of ten seconds.

But it's done now and I don't need to think about it anymore. If nothing else it was an attempt to inject some levity into a somewhat boring (plot wise) series. Yaiba himself was without redeeming features, just crass and evil of clever and evil or sexy and evil. I do not need to see him again.

...

Behold, the game of expectations. Yaiba comes out, no one cares, it is bad, and still no one cares. Lords of Shadow 2 comes out, people expect it to be good because the first one was good, it is mediocre and if you go by the reviews the world is ending. No game exists a vacuum and slapping a number on the end of a title is a way to guarantee even more, perhaps unfair comparisons. Is Lords of Shadow 2 as good as the first game? I don't know yet, but it is certainly different, and that is where I think most of the complaints are coming from.

Gabriel, I'm sorry, Dracula, goes through the standard Metroidvania loss of powers, starting out awesome and then losing everything. Dracula's descent is made more believable by him being dead for a few thousand years. That's a lot of down time, even for the prince of darkness. Enter plot twists that I don't get yet and characters that I do not remember, both of which leave the player feeling a bit helpless, especially when combined with Dracula's general wimpiness. One does not expect to feel vulnerable when playing as Dracula, yet here it is. He is physically and emotionally weak, both of which will be resolved as the game progresses.

But is it any good? Again, I don't know yet. Combat feels very loose: enemies often do not suffer from any hit stun, meaning they can interrupt you mid combo and you can't see it coming because of all the whip flailing going on. If I could deal with Yaiba's bull shit I can handle this. I do think I will tire of the modern environments quickly. They just don't seem to fit the mood, at least not yet.

As long as I spend less than three hours on two bosses I will be able to overlook a lot.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Can't stop, too angry

Seventy deaths in sixty minutes.

This was as angry as I have been at a game in a long, long while. Yaiba had come up against Ryu and Ryu was faster, stronger, and he cheated. I swear he cheated. In the beginning I died so quickly that the load time to get back to the last checkpoint lasted longer than my previous life. This boss was relentless. Don't block? You die. Block too much? He has unblockable attacks and you die. Miss a dodge? You die.

I consciously changed my tactics over and over. Sometimes I made progres, others I died even faster. It was only after backing out to main menu, breathing for a while, and starting over that I got past it. This begs the question: why did I put up with this shit from a mediocre game? There is no good reason to take this abuse from any game, much less a bad one.

The reason is simple: it became personal. I knew it was possible but I couldn't see how and I hate not knowing things. So I died more than once a minute for over an hour to a boss in a game that I shouldn't be bothering to play.

If I could apply this same obscene stubbornness to fighting games I might not go 1-2 this year.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Bad humor inbound

I have complained in the past about about how seriously Ninja Gaiden games take themselves. Being difficult is one thing, I never was able to finish the first two, but hard and dreadfully serious leads to boredom. Ryu Hayabusa has no personality, we get it, but when nothing happens of interest for hours at a time outside of getting killed in unfair ways it gets harder and harder to come back for more.

Ninja Gaiden Z tries to remedy this by replacing Ryu with Yaiba. Yaiba is evil, crass, sexist and hyper-violent. He also dies in the opening cutscene and other bad guys resurrect him to do their bidding. Yaiba agrees, but only because their bidding includes killing Ryu. That is the entire plot. Bad guy dies, comes back as badder guy, twist to follow.

I just played this game not too long ago and it was called Deadpool, with one difference: Deadpool was good.

Ninja Gaiden Z is still a Ninja Gaiden game. This means that you can be motoring along just fine and then be crushed by impossible spikes in difficulty or a boss that you spend more time dancing around than engaging. Yaiba at least tries to play some of this up for laughs. Occasionally it works, the enemy introductions are actually funny, but Yaiba himself is just as much of a bore as Ryu ever was.

Why am I talking about plot and characters in a Ninja Gaiden game? Because the action itself is not that interesting. I may complain about the difficulty of the first two games but I refuse to question their quality. They are very tight action games, they just required more dedication that I was willing to give. Ninja Gaiden Z feels sloppy. It is not always clear what hits and what doesn't, what can and cannot be blocked, or what the hell to do in any given situation.

Sloppy, funny for the wrong reasons, difficult to make progress, the game sounds like the average teenage boys love life.

And on that note...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Eh.

Sometimes you can tell that a developer's heart is in the right place with a game and that their ambition has just outstipped their ability or resources. The idea behind Mercenary Kings is sound and given more time, talent and money it could have been a great game. Let me be clear, what is here is not bad, it is just spread far too thin. Weapon upgrades are spread pretty far apart, time wise, due to the amount of grinding for materials required. The grinding would not be as grindy if there were more environments. After around five hours of play I have only seen three, and apart from the third being a sly nod to Elevator Action, there are boring to look at and be in.

The pace of the game is just too slow for its own good. Speed up the weapon upgrades by lowering the requirements. Spend less time in the same levels by eliminating most of the boring fetch missions. Shrink the levels themselves and make more of them. In other words, turn Mercenary Kings into Metal Slug 3, which is not a fair thing to ask for.

I have not decided how much more of the game I am going to play. Yaiba is here, but it is supposedly bad. Lords of Shadow 2 is also here, but that is also supposed to be bad. Choose your poison, I suppose.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bloody hope

Yaiba has actually not been started yet because the US Postal service is conspiring against me. The past few days have been filled with Killer Instinct and watching old Undertaker matches on Netflix in preparation for his yearly appearance at Wrestlemania. His fight with Lesnar does not excite me. Maybe Lesnar will botch another moonsault. Anything is better than his 'fight' with Goldberg.



Kidding, I would never wish that bad of a botch on anyone.

...

PS+ continues its dominance over Xbox Live Gold in the area of free games. The only game that has made it out for free since the Xbox One release that I both was interested in and hadn't played was Shoot Many Robots. PS+ has consistently offered quality next generation titles every month and while Mercenary Kings does not quite live up to its Metal Slug crossed with Borderlands hype it is impossible to turn my nose up at a free 2D shooter.

Metal Slug games have always been very tight, difficult, focused games - linear but with branching paths to reward multiple play throughs. Levels had a theme and unique enemies and always ended before they got boring. This is where Mercenary Kings falters: there is a lot of grinding and collecting to be done so far too much time is spent in the same level. I played for two hours last night and am still running around in the same opening jungle area, fighting the same enemies, saving up materials for the same guns.

It has committed the cardinal sin of action games: it has gotten boring.

I really hope that the first area is just small and it is taking so long because I am still learning how the game works. In all other ways it is a gem of a throwback game, like a 16 bit refugee that has spent the past dozen years in the gym. This alone will keep me going but it will not see me through to the end. Big guns and better levels will do that.