Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wasting time

I feel that I should apologize to someone for the amount of time I have stuck into the ticking time bomb that is Marvel. Last night I planned on sitting down for an hour, losing, getting salty, then moving back over to Agents of Mayhem and taking said salt out on faceless goons. It didn't work out that way.

Three and a half hours later I dragged my sorry ass to bed. Matchmaking is pretty slow so I split the hours between waiting for fights in the practice room, waiting for fights at a menu, and finally jumping into a lobby and running a longer than average set with someone whose every team was better than what I could muster. I won 4 to his 6 so it was not a blowout but it certainly was not pretty.

My major beef of the moment is that mashing light punch (the auto combo button) into tag into auto combo is surprisingly effective, at least against me. Full screen super works, but that is not much fun. Hulk's gamma charge also works, as it has several points of armor, but that doesn't lead into anything cool, at least nothing I have discovered yet. Spamming gamma charge also leads to people disconnected, which amuses me, but doesn't make for good fights.

I am not good enough to steam roll mashers but I am far to ass to fight anyone who actually knows what they are doing. This middle ground will be what drives me away from the game, well, that and the stack of games behind it, but I have had more 'fun' with this Marvel that the last one already. Now if I could just land

(Rocket) c.LK, c.HK x electric mine, HP, f.HP x tag (Hulk) LK, HK x LK gamma charge, meteor super x tag, fire mine, gatling gun super, tag, HK gamma charge

in a fucking match I would retire happy.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Side tracked by winning

I meant to start Agents of Mayhem over the weekend but a 14 gig patch that spontaneously disappeared and the game uninstalling itself prevented it. That patch is larger than the game's install. I would mind this less if PSN's download speed was in any way respectable. Instead of jumped feet first into Marvel vs Capcom Infinite's online mode and things went better than expected.

My team is still Rocket/Hulk, though I have changed my gem from Time (air dash) to Space (pull the enemies closer or put them in a big box). Rocket's land mines are great combo starters and pulling someone into one from across the screen is endlessly amusing. Amusing is all I really hoped for in Marvel. I have already played Infinite more than 3 without breaking anything.

Not only did this work but I actually won a few matches. Other bottom dwellers liked to mash light punch from across the screen, hoping to stumble into an auto-combo. Whatever shall I do? Super from across the screen works as does the aforementioned mine into space pull. Even more fun is walking up with Hulk and just punching the person through their jabs thanks to his armored moves. Deflating someone with a cool looking (but easy) air combo for 25% life sustained me.

Somewhere between losing and winning at Marvel I lamented to Chance that I was aggressively bad at the game. He suggested that I be aggressively bad at Overwatch instead and I could find no argument against it. I stuck to Bastion, we played four on four deathmatches (Alex was there as well) and we won. My Bastion was covered by shields and heals and filled many opponents with holes. It was both fun and, well, embarrassing, because I understood why I had so little fun with Overwatch the last time that we played.

This stems from a brief discussion of PuBG and how I did not understand its popularity. It was described as a witches brew of things that I hate: rogue-like progress resets and no overriding narrative.  That and being reliant on the cooperation of other people are things that just cannot abide.

I cannot create my own narrative in a game. The time in PuBG between being dropped, nearly naked, into a field and later dying and losing my scrounged collection of weapons and clothing is wasted time. There was no story told and everything that I gained was lost. It is popular because it creates shorter stories in the players' heads, one for each attempt, that are satisfying. I hate the very thing that everyone else enjoys.

The same is true for relying on others in Overwatch. The first time I played online I lost almost every game. This made the ten or so minutes of gameplay that preceded it a 'waste of time' because I did not achieve the goal and was in no way rewarded for the effort. XP towards loot boxes does nothing for me. When I was winning, in no way thanks to my own ability, I did enjoy it, but my mediocre contribution made that enjoyment embarrassing.

This is why, when I am playing well, fighting games are fun. I won. And this is why my interest in them sways wildly from playing nothing but them to cursing their existence. When I lose, I lose. No story is told, no progress gained, I lost.

...I may have just confessed to being a sociopath.

...

Marvel's true calling for me, a spectator sport, is alive and well. Watching SCR was a blast and Yipes and Tasty Steve on the mic were a delight. Once I am done playing the game I will still enjoy watching the game. I am not sure how Capcom benefits from this, as spectating does not require the purchase of a season pass, but Capcom has proved time and again that it really doesn't know what its doing, anyway.

Friday, September 22, 2017

It don't mean a thing

If it ain't got that swing.




Someone is a fan of Squirrel Nut Zippers.







That is some hot shit.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

I'm fine, really. I just think too much sometimes

I wound myself up into a bizarre thought experiment on the way home from work yesterday and I have not found a way out of it yet. It is not original, by any means, but it is caught up on the front burner of my brain like an ear worm or disturbing image. This ties into something that Chance and I talked about off-air yesterday: the 'American Dream'.

By anyone's measure I have a good life. I live in a safe town in a safe state (no hurricanes or earthquakes, just cold winters) in the most powerful, if dubiously governed, country. I have a cushy job that allows me to come and go almost as I please. I am even the right gender and the right color (please note this is not me expressing racism or sexism, only the fact that white men have an easier time of things than most) . I am financially stable due mostly to good fortune and the posthumous generosity of others. It feels like I have done little to deserve this, having passed on many opportunities in life to do more because more is difficult. I have always chosen the path of least resistance and have never been punished for it.

This is where the weird thought experiment kicks in.

What if all of this were indeed too good to be true? There are two possibilities: first, the entire universe of my perception may be created just for me, a private matrix that continually bends the odds in my favor. Everything comes up Chamberlain because everything exists for Chamberlain. There is no way for me to prove or disprove this as it is impossible for me to view anything from outside of my perspective. I cannot see with another man's eyes so this false universe becomes the truth.

As I said, this is not an original thought, but it is one way to explain my inordinate good luck. The second is that I am mad, that reality is real but my perception is not, that it is warped by mental disease or defect. Again, there is no way to prove or disprove this. To the mad man the sane seem crazy.

These are not pleasant thoughts. I credit them to the dreadful melancholy that accompanies the midpoint of an unremarkable life. 

There are two paths you can go by

After recording last night I spent played a bit of the story on Infinite (it's ridiculous and insane, but in a good way) before hitting the practice room again. I woke up thinking about combos, ways to go from Rocket to Hulk and back again. This is either a good thing, meaning that I am willing to put in some work with this game, or a very bad thing in that I am setting myself up for massive disappointment when I finally play against another person and none of my shit works.


Chamberlain and Chance - Don't be afraid

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Big and little

I played Marvel vs Capcom Infinite for around three hours last night without leaving the trials or the practice room. Not a single character feels comfortable yet mostly likely to me having played the third game so briefly around five years ago. Before I even think about playing against a person I need a character that feels right, whose  movement and arsenal are not a struggle to deal with. I am not there yet but I have eliminated a few people.

Dante is far too complex. He is doctorate level Marvel and I am in kindergarten.

Anyone with a down down motion. A misguided attempt at lowering the execution barrier has led to most dragon punch motions (forward - down - downforward) being replaced by down down. I find this significantly worse than a normal DP motion and impossible to do accurately or quickly. This takes out Mega Man X, Gamora, Chun Li  and Captain Marvel, among others.

Ryu - he doesn't feel like Ryu at all.

Frank - I just don't like Frank after the last Dead Rising.

The one team that I took into the practice room and some fun with was Hulk - Rocket Raccoon with the Speed gem. Here's my idea: Hulk hits hard but it slow. Rocket is fast. Start a combo with Rocket and tag in Hulk to finish it off. I think the principle is sounds. The Speed gem give Hulk an air dash, which is does not normally have, and allows Rocket up to three airborne moves (his two air dashes and the speed gem) to try to mix up into a hit.

Again, I think the principle is sound. I do not know if I have the skills or the patience to make anything happen. My one day foray into Overwatch should give you a clue on his this may end up going.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pointless trivia

The Motorhead DLC takes Victor on a brief tour of histories evils. The first is unmistakable World War II, complete with overhead bombers and a nameless 'fuhrer' yelling at Victor from the distance. The second is the old west with a nameless, evil priest as the villain and the third is middle ages based, complete with an evil queen who baths in the blood of her subjects. Final boss music, ahoy:



All three are stock standard 'evil' archetypes but the first, the nameless Nazis and the nameless Fuhrer, lead to an interesting point: Lemmy (of Motorhead) was an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia. He loved it because, in his words, 'I have always liked a good uniform.' The Motorhead expansion was announced in 2014. Lemmy died a few days after his birthday, December 28th, 2015. The expansion actually came out in June 2016.

Was the psuedo Naxi immagery added at Lemmy's behest? Did he even know that his likeness was used in the game? It was not the first time - he showed up in Brutal Legend as a healer, of all things.

...

It's hard to find things to talk about with this game. It's fun but it isn't very deep. I finished Motorhead last night, realized that the crafting system was even more useless and abstract than I first thought, and am not sure if I am going to go back for the final piece of DLC. There are beatings to be had. My beatings. And I haven't even chosen a team yet.

Monday, September 18, 2017

My hands hurt when it was done

Victor Vran's main champaign wrapped up to days ago in a pleasant enough manner. The voice in Victor's head was the big bad guy. Said bad guy had been making fun of Victor's hat for most of the game so when he got his it was quite satisfying. I mean, Victor's hat is terrible, but you don't just say that to a person who wields a shotgun that never needs to be loaded and a scythe with a six foot blade, ancient vampire or not, it just isn't going to go well.

The age of the game means that all of the DLC is included so I took by powered up Victor into the first add on: Motorhead. Yes, Lemmy makes an appearance. Yes, there is licenced music. No, there is not enough licenced music so a few tunes get recycled ad nauseum. There is also a stiff uptick in difficulty, possibly caused by the game not scaling monsters well to my higher level. This is especially bad during rock memorial events: Victor (who has no idea what is going on) finds a gave to a member of Motorhead and must defend it from waves of enemies. I spent about 45 minutes on one last night and if I hear Jailbait one more fucking time....



The game is still fun but it is not bringing anything new to the table in the DLC so I do not know if I will make it to the end of Motorhead, much less the second offering. There is a new fighting game coming out tomorrow, one that I will purchase entirely out of habit even though simply watching the game terrifies me: Marvel vs Capcom Infinite.

I have not touched Marvel vs Capcom 3 in six goddamn years. And when I did attempt it things did not go well, as documented here. I am not sure why I feel compelled to purchase it, especially when Tekken 7 and Injustice were obtained quite close together and have both fallen out of rotation. If I can make it through a few days without breaking anything I will count it as a win.

Speaking of Tekken...

There is a new arcade near my house that is slowly building up a collection of classic games. Their collection is scattershot, nowhere near the encyclopedia of cabinets offered by Galloping Ghost, but this is a twenty minute drive versus 2 hours and I don't need to go to Chicago. Since the last time I was there they obtained a Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection cabinet that was in pretty good shape. The buttons were touchy but the sticks felt nice. Tekken 5 was the Tekken that I actually practiced. The intervening years meant that I was not going to attempt Steve but Nina and Bryan still worked.

All of the games are set on free play so there is no putting a quarter up to signify that you would like to play. My brother and I ran a few rounds, and he somehow remember most of King's 10 hit string, but I was victorious in a close match. I came back later and watched someone else play long enough for him to notice me and invite me.

His Paul was junk. He knew moves and strings but his spacing was terrible. I just juggled him with Nina and then f,f -2'd him into the ground with Bryan. As soon as he lost the first round he began to complain about his stick.

Ahhhhh, arcades, where your opponent's bitching is the true balm of Gilead.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Of course I don't like Overwatch

A preface to this week's episode.

I said some rather not nice things about the Smash community and for that I feel I should apologize. Picking on the game is one thing, something that I do not apologize for, but disparaging the community as a whole is not acceptable. Are they loud, rude and insular? Yes, but so are people who play Marvel. Chance reported that they are trying to make reasonable changes in their community to become more inviting to female players and that should be applauded. They do not deserve to be thrown under a bus as a whole and for that I do apologize.

The game is still no fun to watch.


Chamberlain and Chance - It's a cult

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The good king of gamey

Diablo 3 is an exceptional game. It is the only game in recent memory that I played through twice, and that wasn't even on purpose. My intention the second time was to just play the expansion but I was unable to due to a quirk with importing a character. The old monk was pushed aside and I played the whole damn thing again with a demon hunter. Good times were had.

Diablo clones are a mixed bag. There are really good ones: Titan Quest (showing my age with that one) and Torchlight 2. There are not so good ones, like the Vikings game that I played earlier this year. Victor Vran is closer to Torchlight 2 than Vikings in that in embraces its gaminess. Victor himself is stoic, deadpan, but the nameless voice in his head breaks the fourth wall for laughs quite often. Other characters are caricatures, exaggerated to the point of amusement without being annoying. It's an impressive balancing act.

Combat likewise attempts to skirt the barrier between ARPG and just action. There are no skills to earn, special attacks are tied to weapon type, but there are passive buffs to assign and super moves to choose. There are around five weapon types, two of which you can have equipped at a time. It is worth it to keep one of each type handy as there are secondary objectives in each area that will sometimes require you to kill a certain number of beasts with a certain weapon. Again, interesting without being obtrusive.

I won't call it mindless but it does not require any of the planning that goes into a good Diablo 3 build. Victor Vran is almost jump in and play, do a level or two, then fast travel back to the hub (for free) and move on with your day. Not bad for a budget game that came out two years ago on PC.

Monday, September 11, 2017

I am weak

On Saturday I buckled to tremendous peer pressure and purchased Overwatch.

I have not put time into an online shooter since one of the PC Unreal Tournaments. Which one had vehicles and the assault maps? That one. I was never 'good' but I was not embarrassing and very little, if any, team communication was required. You assaulted a point or you defended a point, all while shooting everyone that was not the same color as you.

(insert joke about 'merica here if you like)

It worked for me because there was limited choice. There were no characters, no special skills. So it is understandable that when I first tried Overwatch last year I picked Soldier and called it a day. Easy character, reasonable DPS, self heal, everything that a fundamentally lazy man who doesn't like to talk to people needs to have a good time.

Once I pick a character in a game it is incredibly difficult to get me to change. I have played Blanka in Street Fighter since SFII and his absence is Street Fighter 5 is the source of most of my disinterest. When I do play I use Necalli, not because I like him, but because I started with him in the beta. This is true for just about every fighting game I touch (Kitana, Green Arrow, Thunder, May and Nina all say hello). Honestly SFIIHDR is the only exception as I have a reasonable Dhalsim and a scrubby Sagat. Playing a different character feels foreign, uncomfortable, and is a great way to raise my gorge at a game and send me off in a different direction.

This does not work for Overwatch because team dynamics are actually important. Since I purchased the game (again, due to relentless and wearying pressure from someone) I have played all but a few games with Soldier. To no one's surprise he is great in the new (to me) deathmatch mode. I was coming in second or third, completely cold and rusty, thanks not to my incredible shooter skills but to the fact that having self heal and reasonable DPS works out great when your entire task is shooting people.

On normal Overwatch maps, where support is important, I cannot bank on the team needing a Soldier. When it works it is joyous. I had one game, I forget which map (because I do not know the names) where I sat on the point, backed up by a Mercy and an Orisa, and racked up a ten kill streak before some dirty Tracer snuck in behind and shot me in the back. The three of us won the match. Later I played a payload match where I was lost the entire time and completely ineffectual because I didn't wait for the team and had no back up. It was not a good time.

I am treating this as an experiment. Can I enjoy a game that forces me to interact with others? As I grow older, and god damn am I getting old, my hermit like ways have been getting worse. Aside from the podcast I talk to very few people outside of my immediate family. I interact with strangers as little as possible and conduct most of my business through very politely worded emails. This is probably not healthy but there is so much momentum behind the behavior that, like playing Blanka, I do not know if it can be changed.

There is some skin in the game now, as I actually own the game and have purchased a cheap ass headset, so the sunk cost fallacy may work in my favor. Then again I just started Victor Vran, a pretty good Diablo-esque experience with a protagonist voiced by Doug Cockle, the same gentleman who brought Geralt of Rivia to life. It's fun that I can have alone, which is much easier.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Dirty enough, I suppose

There is a specific kind of panic that only a rally racing game can produce. You are hurtling down a narrow road, a sheer cliff on one side and jagged rocks on the other, just at the edge of losing control, completely focused on the road ahead and the instructions from your co-driver.

Right 6 over crest.

You turn. No problem.

Left 2, don't cut.

You break, turn left, accelerate out of the corner.

Crest, 100.

Finally, a straightaway. And then you miss the next bit of instruction. For whatever reason, your concentration slipped, your cat attacked you or you took a drink, you missed it. Since you are going up a rise you cannot see what is coming. Braking now is a possibility but that costs precious time. You waffle for an incredible two or three seconds, a growing pit in your stomach, before doing nothing and flying over the rise.

Into a hairpin turn and, of course, a very unforgiving tree.

This is Dirt 4, a slimmed down version of the previous games. Most of the style and flash is gone but the racing is still good, the experience customizable to what the player is looking for. I have it set on medium which turns off most of the driving assists but I have the AI set to easy because, well, because I am lazy. This tweaking makes the game fun and almost makes the lack of a rewind function forgivable.

The bit of missed dialogue above was not actually your fault. Your co-driver took the time to say that the engine sounds bad instead of warning you of the god damn turn and killer oaks over the hill. This has happened to me several times and is not near as amusing as it sounds. I would like to rewind a few seconds and try again, but no, you need to replay the entire stage. This will get old.

It seems that, in the shadow of both the main stream Forza series and the superior Horizon spin offs, that other racing games and been tightening their belts. Dirt was at one time an prime example of how rally racing could be gussied up to be exciting. Even the loading screens bristled with style. Now? Now it's just a racing game, more accessible (read that as easy if you must) than most, but just a racing game. It cannot hope to keep up with Turn 10, so why bother?

This makes in a hors d'oeuvres, a distraction, something to just play for a bit while I wait for the Xbox One X to come out and run Forza 7 the way it is meant to be run. Not every game needs to be epic. Dirt 4 is a reasonable time, for now, though I have found that I really do not like using the dualshock controller when playing a racing game.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

If Icarus was a game

Oh yeah, I played RiME, Tequila Works' attempt at making Ico. It goes about as one would expect. The game isn't terrible, parts of it are in fact quite moving, but it is missing that special something that made Ico, and to a lesser extent it 'sequels', unforgettable experiences.

Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian all had two things that RiME lacks: a gimmick and a definite sense of place. Perhaps gimmick is the wrong term. Maybe hook? Ico was one long escort mission (that somehow was not terrible), Shadow of the Colossus had a tiny little man against skyscraper sized monsters and The Last Guardian had Trico who was perhaps better in concept than execution. These are hooks that the player will remember forever: escorting Yorda or stabbing the first colossus in the head or desperately trying to get Trico's attention.

All three games also created a very real feeling of location. I am not talking about size, as Shadow of the Colossus dwarfs the other two, but a mental sense of where you are in the world. The architecture and locations in Ico and The Last Guardian made sense. I could tell where I was in the castles most of the time. Likewise the never ending plains in Shadow of the Colossus had a focal point: the giant altar thing that Wander returned to after each kill.

RiME has none of that. The hook, if there is one at all, is that you are playing a boy who wakes up on an island and does not know why he is there. He occasionally seeing a man like shape wearing a red cape in the distance that he tries to follow, but that is it. In Ico the puzzles served a purpose. In RiME they are simple there to impede. Puzzles for puzzles sake.

The game also switches between locations that are not apparently related. At first the keyhole tower is the focus but when you get there it branches off into more abstract areas that will not make sense until after the big twist reveal (that I will not spoil). In the moment they can be interesting but never investing because you do not know why you are where you are. Solving a riddle is not compelling when there is no reason to care about the riddle or its solution.

RiME isn't bad, it lacks focus. It is also plainly based on Ico, a game that none have matched. Four plus years in development was still not enough.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

One man's opinion

I don't follow Twitter drama much. It happens at the edges of my peripheral internet senses and is usually a whole lot of talk about very little, especially in the games/game critics industry. But this is something special. It starts here:



The player is Dean Takahasi, a man who has been playing and reviewing games for 20 odd years, eating shit over and over in the tutorial. There is also a YouTube video in which he plays for around twenty minutes and never makes it out of the first level. I am embarrassed for the guy.

The question, and what the internet has been fighting about since then, is this: should the opinion of a person who is clearly terrible at a game matter? Should we listen to anything Dean has to say about Cuphead when he doesn't know how to play it? And was that shameful display his fault or caused by poor design?

First, the design. I don't see any problems with the tutorial. There is a small block, a taller one that is too high to reach and floating instructions that state that the dash can be used in the air. Simple, right? Jump off of the small block and dash at the apex. This is shared knowledge based on years of platform games.

And that is the problem: shared knowledge. Shared by who, exactly? I know what to do based on three plus decades of video game experience. I would have known what to do without the instructions. This does not mean that everyone knows this or that it will be as natural for everyone. If it were a child playing the game or my Mother I would run with this line of thought further, but it was not. Dean has been playing and writing about videogames for 20 years, or so he says. He should know what to do. He should know how to string two moves together, something that he fails again to accomplish in the 'counter slap' section.

It should be noted that I do not think the game is the problem but that I have not played it yet. I can promise you it will go better that it did for Dean.

So does Dean's opinion on this matter? Should we listen to anything he has to say about Cuphead? Before I say no, and I will get to that, take a quick peek at this article that calls him out for giving Mass Effect a bad score. He found it difficult because he forgot to assign skill points after leveling up. Dean did admit this later, and amended his review, but come on.

That article is nine years old. He has not learned much since then.

Dean, from these two examples, does not appear to be an enthusiast. He was not a person who plays games first, he was a writer who chose to write about games, games that he appears to be terrible at. So no, we should not listen to him. It galls me that this man is paid for his opinion. Games are different from most other forms of entertainment in that they are interactive. One does not need to be a director to give opinions about movies or an athlete to talk about sports. Consuming both of these is passive and intelligent opinions on them can be built on knowledge alone.

Game require interaction, some of which is based on skill, and some of those are going to be too difficult for some people, and that's okay. I have said in this very space that Souls game are too hard and fuck From Software forever and this feeling means that no one should come to me for an opinion on Dark Souls. The games aren't for me, for whatever reason (read that as that I am terrible at them) so my thoughts on their quality are not to be valued. I accept that, bitch a bit about them as humorously as possible, and then get back to games that I do know something about.

Dean is paid for his uninformed, unreliable, borderline ignorant opinions. I don't know this man, he could be the nicest guy in the world, but he should not be compensated for writing things that he lacks the requisite skills to appreciate.

If you want to espouse indefensible opinions start a blog. Wait a minute...

Friday, September 1, 2017

The cruel march of time

It was a rough in Chamberlain's little video game world yesterday. First, Capcom announced a remake of Puzzle Fighter. That's good news! I watched the 'trailer' and was first turned off by the chibi 3D models instead of 2D sprites. If the trailer for the Secret of Mana remake has taught us anything it is that some things do not translate well into 3D. This could be forgiven as long as the game played the same.

Nope, it is a mobile game. Fuck that forever.

I have never found a mobile game that I have enjoyed for any length of time beyond ten minutes. Everything devolves into microtransaction driven bullshit. Even games that used to be good (remember Bejewelled?) have been twisted and turned into nothing more than whale trolling exercises. Once a week I download something on my tablet or my phone, think that this will be the one to justify owning these silly devices, only for it to be uninstalled with a quarter hour.

The only game that has ever stuck was Words with Friends and even that is marred with commercials and in game currency. Capcom remains on the shit list.

...

Amusing hyperbole aside, I do not lie about my thoughts one games. When I said that Breath of the Wild was 'okay' and that Horizon Zero Dawn had significant problems I meant it. I wasn't necessarily looking forward to either of those, though buying a system to play a game that I was not 'looking forward to' does seem a bit foolish, so it was easy to throw shade at them. Said shade was made all the more amusing by some rather talented and vociferous defenders.

But when a game that I was looking forward to ends up being a stinker, that's hard. I want to look for excuses instead of piling on. I want to think that I am wrong, that I was in a bad mood, that I was distracted. None of that is true about Rock of Ages 2. I just need to admit that it is inferior to the first game in every possible way.

The basic premise is the same: roll a big boulder down increasingly difficult tracks to knock down the door to your opponent's castle and squish them. On the flip side you also need to play defense, set traps and obstacles to prevent your opponent from squishing you. It was the weakest part of the first game but was bearable because it was not that important or difficult. So what does the sequel do? It doubles down on the worst part of the first game, makes it more important and much more difficult.

I have admitted in the past that I am not very good at video games. My breadth of knowledge and experience comes from sheer hours played, not skill level. I play games on Normal. Always. And I do not feel bad about dropping it down to easy. Rock of Ages 2 was dropped down to easy almost immediately and it still was too hard. The AI cheats, honestly cheats: it can put down more defences than you as it starts with more funds. It knows all of the shortcuts on the tracks and is not confused by level design several steps behind that of the first game.

Stylistic choices are one thing but making the track indistinguishable from the barriers? That's just dumb.

Playing Rock of Ages 2 is like running into a friend from college who has turned into a total asshole in the intervening years. Some of the charm may still be there but the little things that you didn't like and could look past because you were young and drunk have been magnified by the cruel march of time. It's not good and it makes me sad to say so.