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    Gravity Rush 2 (PS4)    by   dkirschner       (May 23rd, 2024 at 08:09:13)

    This was a neat one, and recommended with caveats. I'd never heard of Gravity Rush before looking through the PS4 catalog for anything it looked like I missed before I "finish" the console. The gimmick of Gravity Rush is that your character controls gravity. She doesn't "fly" by propelling herself forward; rather, she orients herself in whichever direction and "falls" that way. Traversing the environments, especially the spans between islands, was consistently thrilling. In tighter spaces though, and when aiming for precision as during combat when you need to hit a specific core on a monster that's moving around, movement and the camera can be extremely frustrating. The episode where Kat (the main character) and Raven have to go inside the ship monster and destroy the gravity engine, sliding through tight corridors and breaking barriers, was especially bad on this point.

    The other caveat is similarly something that I liked at times, too: the story. I was hooked on it for the first half. It was coherent, following the main character, Kat, and the somewhat mundane everyday challenges of the Banga fleet, a group of people living on a flying settlement. I really enjoyed this part of the game because there is great character development, not just for Kat, but for a host of notable story characters, as well as minor characters. I got to know them a bit, understood their relationships, their history, and so on. This is done largely through side quests, which are varied, interesting, and usually teach you something about this or that character that adds depth. I completed about half the side quests before deciding to focus on the main story and finish up. After like 20 or 25 side quests, although they remained creative, I was losing interest in the larger story, and there were so many side characters in Jirga Para Lhao (the second main area of the game, a bit city that the Banga fleet docks at) that I stopped caring all that much. I also thought at first that you would get worthwhile rewards from side quests (gems to level up abilities, talismans to equip that make abilities stronger), but I don’t think I ever got gems. You occasionally get a special talisman. Usually, though, it’s a costume or a decoration for Kat’s room, neither of which I care about. It also turns out that talismans are unnecessary. I hardly paid attention to them the entire game.

    I also hit on some frustrating side quests, like the one where you have to pretend to be Hekseville’s (the third main area of the game, a city that Kat gets to from warping through a gravity rift) hero, Kali Angel, and go around getting people to notice you, then once a bunch notice you, eat ice cream to drum up excitement about an ice cream shop. But they can’t notice you too much! Otherwise, they’ll realize that you’re not really Kali Angel and you fail the mission. Amusing, yes, but frustrating in practice. Some of the side quests took me half an hour or more. Another maddening one was the one where I had to find a dog’s frisbee, slowly being led around by the dog until we finally found it in the possession of a spoiled little girl, whom you can only convince to give you the frisbee by teaching her how to play fetch with the dog. Thereupon you play a little “fetch” minigame, attempting to toss the frisbee to predetermined locations from where you are standing. The frisbee, not obeying any known laws of physics, flips and spins and spirals and often lands outside the target zone. I tossed that frisbee like 50 times to build up the dog’s “joy” meter because when you miss the target, the joy meter decreases. I hated that side quest so much. Anyway, there were enough frustrating ones, and my own joy level was decreasing, that I finally stopped doing them.

    Back to the story…the Banga fleet arrives at a Jirga Para Lhao to stock up, where Kat and the fleet become involved in business and political intrigue. I liked all this stuff! But then, about halfway through, the game takes a turn. A giant evil city appears and after you kill the city, you get sucked into a gravity rift and appear in the city from the first game, Hekseville, where there are a lot of characters Kat knows but I don’t (and here is really where the side quests quit being interesting because I haven’t been with these characters for half the game and the story is going off the rails). The game just starts throwing crazy story beats at you. Did you know that the nice mayor whom everyone loves is also a mad scientist?! He’s going to freeze time to save his daughter!! And the city’s guardian, Kali Angel, is also his daughter and she’s also the sister of Cecie, who has been around since Banga fleet, but Cecie is also a gravity shifter really named Durga Angel, and then the entire city of Jirga Para Lhao comes through the gravity rift to help save Hekseville, and then you have to travel up a pillar because some old god appeared and said so, and when you get there, there is an ancient city and apparently you are the queen (???) of this ancient city (and honestly the part where you are the queen again was really cool; there are high points even when the story goes off the rails), but you were deposed 100 years ago and an insane child now rules the city, and the insane child releases an electricity monster (???) and you fight it and save the world the end. It was a lot of “this person is actually THIS person!!” and “this character is secretly doing THIS bad thing!! Bet you didn’t see that coming!!” type stuff.

    One thing that was consistent though is how upbeat the game is. Kat is a downright positive and fun character. That upbeat and fun tone is conveyed throughout most every aspect of the game, which kept my joy meter high save for a few frustrating parts. The game looks and sounds great. The animations in particular make it look like Studio Ghibli, and there’s great detail in the world. Kat can get emotes, and early on I was using them on people to see if they did anything. Turns out that the emotes often get reactions from NPCs. I “scared” a juggler and he dropped his pins. I waved at people and they waved back. I sang and they clapped. The coolest one was when I scared someone carrying a box of goods down some stairs. He dropped the box, and about 10 tomatoes rolled out of it and went tumbling down the stairs. Detail!

    So yeah, neat game for sure. I don’t think I’d sink the time into another Gravity Rush game, but I’m glad I played this one.

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    Mass Effect: Andromeda (PS4)    by   jp       (May 21st, 2024 at 18:23:03)

    I've hit 20 hours and going strong.

    I've already rendered the first planet 100% viable! (I think this was ahead of schedule because I've gotten messages about going back to the planet to see what's going on, but I've already been, and things are great!)

    I've also uncovered the "truth" about the kett and their abductions of these other aliens whose name I forget. Supposedly we're all friends now and I think I have to go find another planet to settle? As in, I only have one colony - and I think, based on the empty spaces in the UI that I'm supposed to eventually get to 4? It seems like a lot!

    That being said, I've been pleasantly surprised by how non-formulaic the game is. I was half expecting to do a whole thing again on the 2nd planet, but it was very different and varied in such a way that it wasn't boring. So, different activities and such. Though, no access to the little rover which is pretty fun to drive around (and, it's surprisingly hard to get it stuck on the scenery or put out of commission, and trust me, I've tried some wild stuff and it works just fine).

    There are also these "away" missions I can send people on and then collect rewards (if they succeed) in 4 hours or whatever. I'm torn on these - I like getting more resources, but I'm not a huge fan of having to spend a few minutes going to the place in the ship where I can access the interface for those missions, assign new ones, and so on. It starts to feel a bit like busywork...

    I'm still very much on the "when this gets boring I'll bail" because I feel like I've gotten a reasonably good understanding of the game (even if I haven't maximized combos and nonsense with the different powers and combat abilities)...

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    Creaks (PC)    by   dkirschner       (May 21st, 2024 at 07:48:19)

    I haven't played an Amanita Design game in a long time, and what a treat this was. I'd never heard of Creaks, but it was in some puzzle game bundle I purchased a while back. It’s got the exceptional art and music you expect from Amanita. The puzzles are creative and the concept is original. In Creaks, you are a guy who finds a hidden passage behind his bedroom wall. He turns on his flashlight and goes through the crawlspace. Turns out that below his room is a sprawling cavern with a massive tower, wherein live all manner of strange creatures. The anthropomorphic birds are the main ones, and they’ve got a problem. A giant monster is crawling around the outside of the tower, destroying everything. The birds are trying to figure out a way to stop the monster. You stealthily follow the birds down, down, down, watching what they are up to, solving puzzle rooms as you go. Eventually, they discover your presence and enlist you to help destroy the monster.

    The puzzles in Creaks are great! Over time, you’ll be introduced to various mechanics, but they basically involve manipulating creatures and light sources, which when shining on a creature, change them into furniture. The first puzzle creatures you encounter are dogs. The dogs activate when you get close and bark at you. When you get too close, they chase you. If you jump off a ledge or go down a ladder, they’ll stand there barking for a minute, then trot back to where they were. So, for example, if you need to get around a dog, you might get it to chase you, climb down a ladder, and climb up a ladder now behind it while it stands barking at the ledge you dropped from. Or, if you lure it to a light source, then turn on the light, the dog will change into a chest of drawers, which (as long as it stays in the light!) you can move or climb on.

    You’ll see jellyfish creatures, which have rules governing their constant movement; goat creatures, which run away from you if you go near, and which otherwise will move toward patches of grass to graze. Dogs will also chase goats. Then there are these weird plant (?) creatures. One type copies your movements and the other type does the opposite of your movements (e.g., you step left, it steps right). And so on. You are generally trying to position the creatures onto buttons or beneath light sources such that you can get past them and move to the next “scene.”

    There are something like 50 scenes. Not only is the puzzle design excellent, but the larger environment design is cool too. As you’ll see, the scenes are all interconnected in the tower. The difficulty is just right. Some of the puzzles had me scratching my head and then feeling clever once I figured out the trick. I got really stuck only one time, but put the game down for a week, played Firework, came back, and with a fresh perspective solved the scene in 5 minutes.

    Highly recommended for a creative, charming, chill puzzle game.

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    Firework (PC)    by   dkirschner       (May 21st, 2024 at 07:04:53)

    This is a point-and-click psychological horror game from a Chinese developer that one of my friends recommended. He's studying representations of traditional Chinese religious practices in games. This one has a sort of shaman woman, whom we never see, and spirits. The main character, a rookie police officer, can communicate with the dead, and he does so as he attempts to uncover the mystery behind a fire in a funeral home and the death of an entire family.

    The story was the strongest part of the game. Although it could be confusing at times, I liked how the protagonist occasionally recapped what was going on as he talked about the case with the teacher of the child who died, who was also investigating for her own reasons. One reason that the story got confusing is because of what I don't know about Chinese folklore. I kept thinking, "A person from China would have all the cultural context and knowledge to understand this," whereas I lacked such background assumptions. This might have been why the humans or spirits were doing some of the things they were doing, various symbolism, the significance of the grandparents going to see the shaman woman, how she or those visits might have been viewed, and so on. In the end, the story is really, really sad!

    The gameplay in this one is straightforward. There is nothing challenging about it. Puzzles are easy. The environments are tiny. You won't get lost or stumped. You generally navigate one or a few screens at a time, interact with a few interactable objects, perhaps pick up an item or two, perhaps solve a puzzle. All of the objects and puzzles affect something on the same or nearby screen, and it's very linear. In typical psychological horror game fashion, the environment changes (e.g., new object appears, color shifts, spirits appear, phone rings, etc.) in generally unnerving ways. There aren't many scares per se, but certainly the creepiness factor is present. The one novel mechanic was a camera that you can use to invert colors in certain places, which changes how the rooms look and reveals new areas or objects that you need to progress.

    Overall, the game kept me engaged through the intriguing story. Gameplay was slow-paced and easy, and it's good that the story consistently moved forward through exploring the environments (mostly the deceased family's house) or else I would have gotten bored. Not essential, but neat game. Now, I've got to talk to my friend about it!

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    Balatro (PC)    by   jp       (May 19th, 2024 at 22:05:30)

    Having spent the last few months playing a lot of deckbuilders, and then hearing a lot of buzz around this one..well, I had to try it out! (fortunately I got it for my birthday as well, yay!)

    And, is it fun? Yes.
    Is it hard? Yes.

    I got really lucky with wins in 2 of my first 3 games. Really lucky. But, now I have a better idea of how the game works, what's good, not so good, and when to invest in different things.

    As far as deckbuilding games go it's got a few unusual things going for it...

    1. Your deck starts out really large! (a regular deck of playing cards) Generally it's pretty hard to make it smaller - there are a few options you might get, but it's not a general/typical option as you play the game.

    2. You can easily add cards to your deck, but mostly you want to upgrade either the cards themselves (not THAT easy, but doable) or (more often?) the value you get from the different poker hands you do. So, increasing the multipliers/base value of two pairs might be better than improving one card that may not appear in a hand all that often.

    3. You can sell your jokers - these all have different effects and, if you get a n interesting one at the start you can (hopefully) lean into it and shift your deck in the direction that takes the most advantage of it. (and then hopefully pick up other jokers that "double down" on that option). For example, a joker that gives you money when playing face cards coupled with a joker that treats all cards as face cards is good.

    So far I've won with a few different decks (there are starter decks that have a different effect) and I'm trying to get the green one to work! (you get money for not playing all the hands). I thought I had it when I last played earlier today - but no luck.

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    Lock's Quest (DS)    by   jp

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Tuesday 8 November, 2011
    I've already finished the game and, as promised earlier, I thought I'd comment on the story. Essentially there are the good guys (humans) and the baddies (clockworks). The latter are robotic creatures controlled by the evil Lord Agony who used to be a good guy but got greedy (or was to ambitious?) about using "the source". In a nutshell, it's a story about "life" and the creation of artificial life and what separates one from the other. In the game you control "Lock" who grew up in a little fishing village along with his sister Emi. She's kidnapped and Lock goes nuts trying to get her back while collaborating with the Kingdom (humans) as they fight against a resurgent army of clockworks.

    Over the course of the game it is revealed that Lock's childhood was essentially an elaborate fiction: all the other villagers are clockworks, and Lock and Emi are especially sophisticated ones. It turns out the good guy was bad, the bad guys misguided...and in the end? Well, the question of what makes a person human is ultimately wrapped up in clockworks lack of a "soul". Emi has been damaged and can't be repaired, because she has no soul. Fortunately, Agony redeems himself sacrificing his soul in order to save his mechanical daughter - giving her life in the process.

    In the end, it was a bit of a let down since I felt the designers essentially folded. To be human is to have a soul - rather than the (perhaps?) more profound question of whether humanity lies in the things one does, the ability to love, and so on. In any case, I was genuinely interested in the story since it seemed to be going in an interesting direction.

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