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    Major League Baseball 2K12 (DS)    by   jp       (Apr 4th, 2020 at 15:47:43)

    This might be the first time I've played a licensed baseball game!

    I'm familiar enough with the sport - in terms of the basic rules and how it works - that I wasn't too worried about having to deal with that as a problem (would not be the case if I played a cricket or rugby game!), but I was surprised by how long it took me to understand the basic interface of the game (it didn't help that I took too long for me to realize that there was some help screens when you pause the game). Also, I lost horribly - which is ok considering how long it took me understand what was going on - but, perhaps I chose to play as a really bad team against a much better one? (I played with the 2012 Cubs - I know they won recently, but I'm pretty sure this was after 2012)

    Anyways, I thought I'd describe the game's interface - if anything that I may refer to it in the future because I thought it was pretty interesting.

    Well first, I was really surprised by how much the game runs on "automatic" (AI/NPCs). As a player there really isn't a lot you can do - which is fine! It makes the game move along much faster than it would otherwise!

    A. Pitching
    Half the game is pitching. For pitching you need to do three things. First you can move a little cursor using the directional buttons inside the pitch box - I have no idea what good strategy here is, but I assume that being really close to outside the box is good in that the batter is less likely to swing ('cause it's a ball)? Second, you choose which type of pitch - there are 5 options and what button to press is indicated on the top screen. Pressing a button for the 2nd part immediately starts the 3 thing you need to do - here a circle gets bigger and you need to keep the button you chose pressed. Let go of the button before the circle gets too big (turns red) and then, as it shrinks press it again when the circle is as small as possible. If you do it right (I think), the circle flashes green and you get a sound. I think the first circle (don't let go of button too early) is for strength/speed and the 2nd press is for accuracy.

    I was really confused by this because, early in the game I did the "correct" thing twice - and both times the batters hit homeruns. So, it looked like that was an easy pitch to hit? It felt like I couldn't have done anything better - other than perhaps choosing a different pitch? I wonder what sort of "insider" knowledge would have helped? (e.g. batter X is famous for hitting well against fast balls, don't pitch those!)

    The other thing I never caught on to is that apparently I do control one player in the field - so I might have been extra-bad 'cause I had one player who just stood there and did nothing? I never noticed this, so who knows if the player runs on auto but you can interrupt?

    B. Batting!

    You have three options of swinging - a power, normal or bunt. I'm not sure when/why I wouldn't choose power? Or normal? I think I understand bunt...
    Also, when the pitch comes in you can move a little circle inside the strike box. I thought that was to determine where you wanted to aim your hit - but apparently you're trying to guess where the pitch will come in, if you get it right, then you hit with extra power. Never figured that!

    You can also give instructions to your players to steal bases - but I never used this. It doesn't seem to happen all that often in real baseball games AFAIK? I could be wrong... I'm probably wrong.


    As I played the game I realized that, due to my lack of knowledge of pro baseball, the game might be largely inaccessible to me. It's really hard to tell how interesting/good the game is when a lot of the interesting decisions or choices rely on external knowledge of the sport. For example, when should I swap out a pitcher, how should I pick pitches, is it better to alternate/mix things up? Pitch to the batters weaknesses? Does the pitcher have those as well? This pitcher might be famous/well known for his curveball?

    So, the whole simulation under the hood really matters (how are players modeled, etc.) BUT that knowledge of what matters, how it matters, etc. is also super important! This all makes it seem like I will never make any progress or sense of Madden.

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    Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)    by   dkirschner       (Apr 3rd, 2020 at 17:03:25)

    So, coronavirus huh?

    Now that I've contextualized the times...

    I have so many more videogames than I did a couple weeks ago. I bought my girlfriend a Switch Lite and she grabbed a few games for it. I've gotten some nice freebies from the Epic Store. Humble Bundle had a massive $30 "help fight COVID-19" bundle with a handful of games on my wishlist, and that came with a one month subscription to Humble Choice, which has another few games this month on my wishlist (and it looks like I get to keep it for next month's games too?!). So I'm swimming in video games AND I have a little more time to play!

    The first thing I did when faced with not being allowed to go to work and being in teaching limbo (we weren't allowed to teach for two weeks as we prepared to move online) was find the longest game in my backlog, which was Xenoblade Chronicles (and its sequel) on Wii (both around 100 hours!), and plop down on my couch. I've made it a little over 20 hours and am thinking about just moving on to the sequel, not because Xenoblade Chronicles isn't a great game--it is--but because I get the gist of it and I want to see what the second one changes.

    This is a massive JRPG. I haven't played a massive JRPG in a long time, so this feels like reverting to when I was younger, very comforting. It also feels like a single-player MMORPG, with large explorable environments and very MMO-esque skills for each character. There are things I love about the game and things that are encouraging me to just try the second one in hopes they will be different.

    Like

    1. Presentation - Music, art style, cinematography, all that is excellent. It's a beautiful game, which is odd to say about a 10-year-old Wii title.

    2. Setting - The game world is the body of an old, dead god. I lived on the bottom of the leg and have been traveling my way to its head. See, in the past, these two old gods fought and died. Their bodies became fertile ground for life forms or something. It's so cool.

    3. Overall story - I don't know where exactly the story is going, but I like the big arc, which is a fight against the "Mechon," which are (you guessed it) machine-like beings. They are, in typical JRPG style, pure evil bad guys. There is something bigger going on, and I want to know what happens!

    4. Combat - I do generally enjoy the combat. It's active in real time. You control one character and the others are controlled by AI. Positioning matters. The order of abilities matters. It's challenging and complex.

    Dislike or meh

    1. Characters - This is one of those "kid saves the world" stories. The voice acting is fine (the British accents grew on me) and the dialogue is fine, and there isn't anything special about the characters really. They fit stereotypes. Except I did just meet Riki, the mandatory cute/annoying nonhuman party member, and I think I hate him.

    2. "Affinity Points" - There are places in the world where, depending on your party members' affinity for one another, special cut scenes will occur. I've found like 30 of these places and only had the right affinity to see like 2 scenes. There is a lot of "social" interaction between characters and NPCs that contributes nothing to the main story and feels arbitrarily locked behind vague stats and busywork side quests.

    3. Pointless side quests - Do you like to "kill 5 Red Hoobaloos" and "find 4 Plains Wacacadoodle toes?" Great! Because you'll be doing that all the time. The same NPC will give you 5 or 6 quests like this at once. There is no side quest pacing. You go to a new area, talk to two or three NPCs to pick up 10 side quests, and maybe knock them out along the way.

    4. Too many skills - In true MMORPG fashion, each character learns up to 16 skills, but can only equip 8 of them. They are complex in how they work together (good) but this makes it difficult to understand which skills can be left out (bad).

    5. Bad party AI - #4 is coupled with bad party AI, who tend to use skills poorly. For example, there are some really useful chains of status effects. You can "Break" an enemy, which allows them to be "Toppled" and take a bunch of extra damage. If an enemy is toppled, you can "Daze" them, which is an even stronger debuff. So I have various skills equipped on the AI (who can only use the skills if they are equipped too) that do these various things. I use my Break skill and...neither of my AI companions uses their Topple skill! Why not?! They should never be using Topple unless the enemy has Break. There aren't any detailed AI settings you can play with to guide their behavior. It's quite maddening. There are so many more examples. If you let the AI control Schulk (the main character), he won't do basic things like using Monado Arts (his special attacks) at crucial moments. Some characters the AI does a serviceable job with and others the AI is horrendous and basically cannot play.

    6. Wii controls - This is one that's going to make me retire the game. You've played MMORPGs. You know how many buttons there are. Now try and map all that onto the Wiimote and the nunchuck. The result is a functional, but awkward and slow control scheme. I spend so much time in menus. On a keyboard, or with a regular controller, navigating menus would be much breezier. Combat also feels at times like a big menu navigation game because you have an action bar with 9 buttons on it, and you can only move the cursor left or right. So battle is you running around with the nunchuck thumbstick pressing left left left left A right right right right right right right right A left left left A right A left left left left left left left A...selecting skills on the action bar until someone dies.

    There's plenty more to say, but I've listed some key positives and negatives. My decision is whether to skip ahead to the sequel. I feel like I've gotten many awe-inspiring moments from this game, and those moments are now few and far between, replaced with more frequent feelings of tedium. I am motivated to continue for the story, but I understand that however much I enjoy that and the exploration, I've got at least like 60 hours of gameplay left, and that is such a long time for something I'm not wholly into at this point. I may chug ahead for a while and decide after another long play session or two, perhaps after committing some combat learning to memory. We shall see!

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    Infamous Second Son (PS4)    by   jp       (Mar 29th, 2020 at 15:52:25)

    I've played this a few hours (ok, perhaps more than a few) over the last two evenings and I've really been enjoying it.

    The beginning was a bit confusing, because it seemed like the game was a pretty narrow linear experience (ala Last of Us) when all of a sudden - it became an open world (ala Spiderman or Ubisoft games)! The transition was weird and confusing to me, but weirdly exhilarating once I realized what was happening. It basically happened as I was going through security (to enter Seattle) and all hell breaks loose - and I ended up going pretty far, not sure what to do, shooting things down and then slowly, as I realized I was not in "open world" mode - going back and picking up things I'd missed.

    The progression seems weird/interesting. Not in a bad way. So you collect these shards (or something) and use them to upgrade your powers. And, I haven't been getting them ALL, but it looked like I was really going to max out super early. This seemed weird, but I thought - oh, maybe the final upgrades are super expensive?

    So, last night I ran into another "conduit" (superhero) and then I learned HER powers...and now there's an entirely new tree with upgrades to buy! I wonder how long this will go on for. The new powers are cool - and I FINALLY feel like I'm powerful in combat, but I'm not sure I want to have to toggle back and forth between them, and if more are added to the mix?

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    Puyo Puyo! 15th Anniversary (DS)    by   jp       (Mar 25th, 2020 at 16:31:58)

    I've always loved Puyo Puyo. I'm not that good at it, but it's an evergreen fun game for me. I was really surprised when I saw this in Japan (and fortunately it wasn't expensive). Wow, they did a 15th anniversary version? Heck, they even made a 20th anniversary version (which I do not own).

    The game's entirely in Japanese. I can't read or understand anything. But, I did have fun playing what I assume is the "regular" mode. You choose a character and play against it and so on until...well, it got to hard for me to beat a character. But this was a while in. Before each "battle" there's a spinner that determines which mode you'll play in. You hit a button to stop the spinner and off you go.

    I'm not familiar at all with any of the weird/alternate/special/cool other modes - so it was fun to play them and randomly realize...whoops, this feels like a totally different game. I've only just realized the wikipedia page explains what each mode is called and so on, but I just had fun playing with them as they came up.

    I don't know if the different characters are meaningful in any way. I don't think there are special powers or anything like that. But hey... it was definitely a fun experience!

    My favorite modes:

    a. There's a mode in the dark with a flashlight that swings around partially illuminating the board.

    b. There's a floating in water mode - here there's a water line (pretty close to the top of the screen) and the puyo puyo float on water. As you stack them, the stack sinks, so making combos is sort of like placing them on the bottom of a regular drop - so, it's weird and took me a bit to wrap my head around.

    c. There's a fever mode that I didn't really understand other than: I think you fill up a meter, once it's full you enter fever mode which are like little puzzles you need to solve for max combo. You do a bunch of these and then hopefully from that dump a whole bunch of trash puyo on your opponent. Often I entered with my opponent into fever mode kind of at the same time, so I don't know how the winner is determined for the fever mode.

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    Jotun (PS4)    by   jp       (Mar 25th, 2020 at 16:21:51)

    While the game's "heart" is the bosses - it's structure has a bit more than that.

    Before each boss you need to clear two levels. Each level as a rune, a special power to find (shrine?), and a health bar boost (golden apple). These levels are all quite different from each other and, especially the early ones are SUPER cool because they introduce/feature something that is then relevant/important in the boss fight. For example using the strong attack to remove vines, attacking dwarves, etc. The environments are pretty, but...the more I played, the less interesting they became partly because they felt less connected (gameplay wise) to the boss fight. It's like the early levels had more time and polish.

    Anyways, I've finished playing, enjoyed it - but I thought the latter levels were a bit of a missed opportunity in this way.

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