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    Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)    by   dkirschner       (Mar 10th, 2019 at 16:41:12)

    Simple game with cute, creative art and a neat "yarn" mechanic. Instead of sucking up enemies like Kirby usually does, he tosses out yarn (like Scorpion in Mortal Kombat: "Get over here!") to unravel enemies and pull objects around. This is because in the story, Kirby has gone to yard land or something because the ultimate boss, Yin-Yarn (pun, +10 points), is turning Dream Land (Kirby's home) into yarn. It's extremely gory with blood and guts and spine ripping and everything. Oops, still thinking about Mortal Kombat. Kirby is totally kid friendly.

    This kept me entertained for about 6 hours to breeze through the single-player story. You can play co-op, though I'm not exactly sure what that adds besides the joy of playing with a friend, as you can do everything alone and there don't seem to be mini-games or anything requiring two players.

    Anyway, the selling point of this game is the yarn gimmick. You don't just use yarn to grab enemies, but you use it to swing from attach points, to shapeshift into cool vehicles in a lot of the levels, and to literally reconfigure parts of the level (always neat). Like I said, it's kid stuff, so it's not going to blow your mind, and it's nothing you haven't seen similarly before (usually with grappling hooks in other games), but it's cool, it's slick, it's fun, it's relaxing, and it's charming to play. Worth the purchase.

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    No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Wii)    by   dkirschner       (Mar 8th, 2019 at 21:36:36)

    Meh Wii game with some highs and lows.

    Style. The game's got this B movie aesthetic with over-the-top sex and violence. I was into the violence, but the sex stuff was mostly jiggly boobs and stupid one-liners. The main character, Travis Touchdown, is pretty irritating too. He's supposed to have bad-boy attitude. You save the game by going into the bathroom and pooping, and when you play as a woman character, by taking a sexy shower. It feels like the game is for 12-year-old boys and I would be embarrassed to play it around anyone. The cel-shading looks great.

    Combat. Fun, but overstays its welcome. The game is broken up into fights where you climb the ranks (through 50, though you probably actually play 15 or so) of fighters to make it to #1. It makes very cool use of the Wiimote and nunchuck motion controls. When you deplete an enemy's health, you do an execution by swinging the Wiimote in whatever direction pops up on screen. This decapitates, disembowels, splits in half, and chops off limbs. Wonderfully gory and slick. You can also, when enemies are stunned, get in close and do piledrivers and things, by swinging the Wiimote and nunchuck together. The combat overstays its welcome because there are some seriously long sequences fighting regular enemies on the way to bosses. One time I thought the game might have been stuck in a loop. It was like 15 minutes of wave after wave after wave.

    Bosses. Fights are generally very easy. A couple of them have little tricks to figure out, and these were my favorite ones. Bosses are very weird and imaginative. A couple of my favorites were fighting the cosmonaut ("the entire fucking space program," as Travis says) and the spider-girl. The trick to the latter is to time rolls when she shoots at you so you can close in and attack her. The final boss is a rich child at the top of a tower who looks sort of like the Riddler riding in a flying car. The second phase is him bulked up looking like a super hero. The third phase is him like a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade float. Yeah, I have no idea.

    Story. The story makes little sense, aside from the "climb the ranks of fighters" thing. It picks up where the previous game left off, and makes a lot of references to events and characters from the previous game. It seems that some of the bosses you fight were in the first game (or their parents or siblings were or something). Travis has a protege who you get to play a couple levels with. She's basically there to be objectified. Then there's Travis's brother, who you rescue (I forget when or how this even happens) and do a fight inside of a dream, which was weird, with some anime girl in a robot suit. There's the head of the fighters' association, a woman with more personality, but also sex appeal. Then there is this mystery woman (Travis's girlfriend from the first game?) who talks on the phone, telling someone about various enemies you will fight, and the camera only shows her mouth, breasts, legs, and up her skirt. Yikes.

    Minigames. These deserve a mention also for being super weird. You can play these to earn money to purchase upgrades and new weapons (all of which seem pretty unnecessary). I upgraded my strength to like 3 of 7 and my stamina maxed 7 of 7. I did purchase two weapons, which looked like that was it. Anyway, the mini games are all like retro arcade style. In one, you have to grill steak for customers to their desired done-ness. In another you have to collect scorpions that have infested a field. If you get stung, you have to go find anti-venom. Another sees you collecting coconuts by kicking trees and catching coconuts in a basket. The minigame NPC says "I wish my wife could handle coconuts as good as you." Har har. In another, you have to collect objects from outer space, bring them back to your shuttle, and avoid asteroids. In another, you have to lay pipes to control the flow of water. The more pipe you lay (e.g., the longer route you make the water flow), the more cash you can earn. These are silly and unnecessary, an odd diversion.

    Jeane. The best part of the game is your cat, Jeane. Jeane begins the game with a weight problem at like 25 pounds. You can play with her in between missions to help her lose weight. You also need to feed her food to keep her happy. But you can give her the cheap shit for $10 or supreme cat meals for $1000, which of course I purchased. The best cat minigame is giving Jeane a massage. You have to move the analog stick back and forth, up and down, clockwise, or counterclockwise as the prompt appears on screen, and Travis rubs Jean's belly accordingly. It's pretty funny and cute. Jeane now weighs about 10 pounds and is happy and healthy. Yay!

    Overall, this game was easy to play. It didn't really spark joy, but was relaxing and the right kind of weird, despite its often juvenile humor and objectification of women characters, for me to enjoy clicking through. Very glad to have experienced the controls.

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    Cuphead (XBONE)    by   ttifere       (Mar 8th, 2019 at 00:46:26)

    Cuphead is a shoot ‘em up, in the style of a late 80’s - early 90’s run and gun game. Like its predecessors, Cuphead is a difficult game in which constant repetition is needed to finish each stage or boss fight.
    Where Cuphead stands out is its 60’s style aesthetic, all the way down to hand drawn animation. This ‘Merry-Melodies’ look is a clear differentiating factor and allows Cuphead room to breathe in today’s crowded indie market.
    From the moment you begin your save file, Cuphead feels good to play. The frames of animation are smooth, and the character movement is almost fluid. This fluidity is essential when designing a tough game, as it places all the control in the players hands. Thus, when the player inevitably dies, they feel it was their fault, rather than busted enemy spawns, for example.
    This game demands mastery in-order to see the finish line. Using mechanics like the parry ability are a must. This allows the player to bounce off pink enemy projectiles, save teammates from death and charge their super meter to unleash devastating blows. Another such mechanic is the ability to swap your character’s gun loadout mid fight. It’s important to know when to use a shotgun-like spreadshot and when to use your standard gun, as the difference could mean defeating a boss before suffering your final hit. Mastering these techniques will ultimately occur over the multiple runs through each level, but the sooner you can pick it up, the better.
    The joy this game brings is due to the overwhelming sense of accomplishment the player feels upon finally overcoming an immense obstacle. Cuphead’s popularity shows that the demand for difficult games, where a game’s longevity is based on how hard it is, and not the overall length of the story, are seeing a return from the 80’s and 90’s titles like Mega Man, Contra and Ninja Gaiden.

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    The Talos Principle (PS4)    by   jp       (Mar 4th, 2019 at 19:07:27)

    It's been a while since I've enjoyed a puzzle game that felt "natural" while still being contrived. The Portal games are probably the closest (I haven't played the Witness yet, but I think it would fit the bill).

    At this point I've finished the game - partly because I got tired of the puzzles and also because I got stuck. I really wanted to get to the top of a tower, but I needed a code to get access to the 4th floor and I must have missed where that clue was provided. So, I decided to cut my losses and go for the (what I assume is..) the lame ending. As in, I did all the puzzles (except for the secret ones, only did one of those because that seemed like way too much work for not a lot of payoff).

    To be fair, while the puzzles were fine - I would have enjoyed a lot fewer of them because what I REALLY enjoyed was chatting to the "person" on the computer terminals in each area, answering questions and reading all the files. I'm super super curious about the backstory (what happened to all the humans?) because all the stuff you find and read says a lot...but not all of it. I wonder if going up the tower was the way to really find out what happened?

    Did the humans all die? Leave? I think died...but then, who is running the computer(s) in which I presumably exist? Are they running on auto-pilot or, are they running but being controlled externally by someone else (aliens?)
    Fun stuff, and very thoughtful - I really enjoyed that part of the game..

    It's not that the puzzles were bad - it's just that there were lots of them, and they're all a bit dry. I did appreciate the following design "tricks" though:

    a. I like how a lot of the puzzles built on each other in terms of strategies and things you learned how to do (e.g. put boxes on top of the mines and ride around!)

    b. The puzzles were all self-contained, until the game hinted that you might be able to break out...they're still self-contained, but you can get extra stuff if you think outside the puzzle. (the exception to this was one of the secret star area puzzles that I was really disappointed by. I only did one, so no idea if it was the exception, but I felt betrayed that I could not solve the puzzle without bringing in stuff from outside the puzzle.)

    c. It felt so good when I broke out of the puzzle area with an object I was not supposed to have. Felt subversive in a non-story way (unlike Portal, which very much reinforces that).

    d. I'm glad they didn't mix up all the elements/things in the puzzles. Some of the longer ones dragged a bit.

    e. The UI for the connectors was great. Especially once I figured out how it worked - that you could select a target but then move around at will (if gray target won't work, but will still be selected). There was a puzzle later where you had to do this - so I figured that out in time?

    f. They collaborating with yourself puzzles were (mostly) really neat. It was fun to plan ahead for them and the restriction that you had to head back to the recording machine is design genius - it really limited the kinds of solutions you could try out in a way that made things generally more manageable.

    g. Fast re-starts are the way to go. Also, I'm glad to say that the rest button was not necessary all that much. By that I mean that the puzzles were designed in such a way that I rarely put myself in a position that I could not undo. This was nice, since some puzzles had a lot of "setup" and being able to tweak a solution is so much better than having to re-start. (tweak = vary the placement of something a little so a timing element works out, etc.)

    h. Going up the tower also felt really neat, especially when "God" comments that you've gone missing and such. A bit Portal-like, but I am genuinely curious to know what is at the top of the tower. I guess I'll have to hit the youtubes to find out...

    i. The messengers were a disappointment - it takes a lot of puzzle-solving effort to find these (3 different?) helpers, but you can only use them 3 times (1 each). So, REALLY not worth all that effort. Also, having the "shrine" where you ask for help was nice, but it was mostly not usable for the entire game because I hadn't found any of the helpers. Sigh.

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    Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 24th, 2019 at 23:40:39)

    Done and done. Plowed straight through, using shortcuts and eventually not worrying about collecting optional puzzle pieces or KONG letters. Silly and fun game that reminded me of being a kid again playing old SNES Donkey Kong and other old platformers.

    Donkey Kong's and Diddy Kong's (both playable characters) island has been overrun by some sentient tiki instruments, who have enslaved local fauna to do their bidding, which seems to be collecting the island's bananas, much to the chagrin of our DK heroes. Platform your way through 8 zones, defeating a boss at each one, until you beat the tiki king.

    Donkey Kong can perform a handful of actions -- pounding, blowing, jumping, grabbing. Pounding is the most frequently used, and is fun because you shake the Wiimote up and down (like you're beating a drum). Pound to break things. Blow to blow things (pinwheels, dandelions, stun some enemies). Jump to platform and bonk enemies on the head. Grab to do some climbing and throw barrels. If you have Diddy Kong, who rides on Donkey Kong's shoulders, you get two additional hearts and can briefly glide after you jump. The game is significantly easier if you also have Diddy Kong, but you've got to find him in barrels and not let him die to keep him around. I recall one boss fight on a mine cart where you have to play whack-a-mole. Being able to glide lets you be much more precise about which mole to stomp on. That was one of my favorites.

    The zones are fairly distinct with some unique enemies and platforming elements, especially as you get farther in the game. There is a mine (with some mine cart levels), a jungle, a factory (this was hardest), a volcano (with lots of fireballs to dodge), some cliffs, a pirate themed zone, and more. I especially enjoyed the perspective shifts when you'd get in a barrel and shoot into the background of a level, then shoot back to the foreground. A lot of the "set piece" type platforming sections were among my favorite.

    Overall, the game was not difficult, although there were a couple difficulty spikes. The last boss probably took me 40 tries, but with Donkey Kong, what was once difficult becomes simple. I recall the level 5 boss, this poisonous snake-like creature that follows you around the level, which is comprised of four or five large wheels covered in grass that you can hang on. You have to climb around the moving wheels and pound a particular spot on each. This is when I learned that you can pound while hanging. I didn't realize this for a while, and spent half an hour trying to only pound the designated spot when I was on top of it. I wound up being perplexed at how I could do it in time, and decided to try pounding while hanging, which worked! I think I beat it after a few tries next.

    There's plenty more to do in the game, such as playing co-op, doing speedruns, getting all the hidden puzzle pieces and tricky to grab KONG letters in each level, and unlocking something called the Golden Temple, which I've no idea how to do. But I'm satisfied just going through the silly story and moving on to the next thing. Good clean fun.



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    Xenogears (PS)    by   boq2

    Beautiful and iconic JRPG, and one of the lesser known released by Squaresoft.
    most recent entry:   Wednesday 23 March, 2016
    Game Review: Xenogears (1998)

    Xenogears, though it is one of the lesser known of Squaresoft's many well-received JRPGs of the era, is an iconic and beautiful addition to the PS1 library of games. It is a single player RPG with a distinctive anime art style that features a detail rich story and a large cast of characters to carry its stereotypically convoluted plot, as well as an innovative extension of the traditional turn-based combat system characteristic of the genre to keep you interested in the progression. The stylization is evident in both the sprite-art and 3D modeling, both of which are used frequently and simultaneously, to create the aesthetic of the game. As with most JRPGs, one can safely take a few liberties when it comes to assuming what to expect out of the game. But, if you are fan of the genre or of dialogue heavy, story-driven experiences, then Xenogears is a memorable experience that has aged well, even from a visual perspective (rare of the early 3D RPG's in my opinion).

    Formal Elements:
    This game, like many turn-based RPGs, can be boiled down into two main gameplay modes: battle mode, and exploration mode.
    In this case, battle mode can be additionally broken down into two simple variations: on-foot battles and in "Gear" (Giant mech)battles. In battle mode, you command each member of your party to take an available action in order to vanquish your foes. Actions range from basic attacks, to magic attacks (use EP, ether points), to items, to escaping (and later recharging). While this is largely typical of the genre, the part of this mechanic that stands out is the replacement of a typical basic attack with a input-based combo system. AP (action points), the resource, has a value that is depleted by the weak, medium, and strong attack by 1, 2, and 3 respectively. This allows you to use a variety of input combinations to achieve the desired patterns of attacks, and the maximum value increases as you level. For instance, if you have a total limit of 5 AP you may input triangle 5 times, or triangle triangle square triangle, or x square. Any combination below available AP is valid. In addition to having more control over the executed attack, many of these combinations result in special moves that are only unlocked after you have reached a certain level and tried the combination in question. These devastating special moves have no limit to their use and are signified by unique attack animation sequences for each of the dozen or more for each party member. The "Gear" battles are very similar to the on-foot battles (which occur for a large part of the game before "Gears" are available) except, while there are generally fewer combinations and room for input variation in Gear fights, there is added depth in the form of yet another resource: fuel. Without fuel, players are forced to remain vulnerable and are greatly limited in terms of available actions. These elements, coupled with other turn based decision mechanics, make for an interesting and fun to repeat (you will be) battle system that is a little different than what you will get from other greats from the genre, such as many of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, Chrono Trigger, and Legend of Dragoon among many more. It is not so different an experience from Legend of Legaia and related titles in terms of combat, however, but they lack in depth what Xenogears is able to achieve overall in my opinion.
    In terms of exploration, the game uses a typical top down view with random encounters when wondering the world map between explorable nodes. There isn't much exploration on the over world itself other than finding the boundaries and any possible hidden zones, but each explorable zone (town, dungeon, mountain range, any scene they want to add context to) has quite a bit more detail. This is once again typical of the genre, but one somewhat uncommon feature to this part of exploration is the ability to jump. This allows some additional complexity to level and puzzle design, but I wouldn't say that either of those things were top priority in development anyway.

    Dramatic Elements:
    Squaresoft (and SquareEnix post-merge), particularly around the time of this game's release, is well-known for their emphasis on telling a compelling a story as well as building a complex universe within which the narrative takes place. The exact line between a dense, compelling, complex story and an oversaturated-with-detail, convoluted, nonsensical (yeah, I said it) story is subjective and highly debated, but I think most fans can agree that it is a line Square dances with and keeps a foot on both sides of. Xenogears is no exception to this. The story is delivered through a combination of spoken dialog (very little, in cutscenes), and written dialog between characters as the player advances the events of the story. This is the primary way the story is delivered, so be prepared to read quite a bit, Commit to playing for long periods of time and save often unless you are able to play on mobile or emulator, as talking sometimes goes on in excess of half an hour and save / stopping points are few and far between. I love the game and have played through multiple times, but I still find it easy to lose myself trying to make sense of the big picture (especially as it is revealed), not unlike the experience digesting the story of Final Fantasy VII. That being said, it introduces many interesting characters and scenarios on the way, and keeps you engrossed in the ever-evolving, ever-complicating plot all the way through the end. The sci-fi heavy origin story of the game involves a mysterious force causing a ship from a very advanced civilization to crash. Without much explanation, one can infer from the onset of the game a large amount of time has passed and any evidence of that civilization is largely lost. Many nations have begun to unearth ancient weapons known as Gears, which are large Gundam like suits of mech armor. The protagonist Fei Fong Wong is inexplicably attacked in his home village at the beginning of the game, forcing him to leave the life he knows behind. He sets out with a trusted advisor in search of truth and partially motivated by anger. Along the way you become familiar with the political struggle across a vast and varied world, meet many interesting characters with many causes, and begin to unravel a plot that involves the concept of reincarnation and a spiritual connection between two people that transcends time. There is a lot of religious and philosophical symbolism, a lot of which is thought provoking and well placed, but often plot points are trying too hard to evoke some sense of profundity. One example is the use (potential spoiler? Not really honestly.) of "Id" as an extremely powerful inner force that is trapped within you that manifests as an alter ego. This is not a very clever way to incorporate that psychological struggle for the character, in my opinion, but it does make for some awesome fight sequences and plot twists. In addition to a good story and excellent world building, the game is accompanied by detailed and sometimes lengthy animated (anime style) cutscenes. Many are drawn simply to the presence of mechs, but it is the surprisingly interesting story and human centered conflict that makes the game memorable. Overall, this is one of the most enjoyable and memorable games in this genre in every way.

    Fun fact:
    This was actually proposed as the plotline for Final Fantasy VII. It was a favored possibility, but they ultimately went with the arc with which fans of the series are familiar. Instead of being scrapped, Xenogears was published and envisioned as the culmination of a 5 part series. This was never realized, but many elements and namesakes are present in the Xenosaga series (carried out afterward by Namco) and later, even more loosely, Xenoblade. Xenosaga even had many names in common, leaving room for speculation that it could be interpreted as a potential backstory for the never elaborated on "creation story" of Xenogears, and they ultimately might lead the series toward a remake of "episode 5." Xenosaga concluded as a trilogy and remains the spiritual successor to Xenogears rather than an actual s/prequel or spin off like Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger, however.

    The play-through:
    This is a title I have played and beaten many times, and I was worried that I would not enjoy getting back into it. Though my memory of the story being a little foggy on the big picture, I was able to get back into the swing of things pretty quickly and get through the introductory part the game (AKA pressing x for an hour and a half while reading dialog, followed by some light adventuring.) After getting Citan, the first available party member, I halted story progression and got way too involved in some good old fashioned grinding. It was entirely unnecessary, but I wondered doing random battles in the initial forest area, leveling and unlocking special moves until my proficiency in special moves far exceeded what was available to me by level. I had mastered X X, a 6 AP move. You start the game with 3 and it would be a long time before I could officially unlock and use it. Even trying to be critical and taking off the nostalgia goggles, I can't deny the fun, and I honestly had to wonder why Square had strayed so far from such simple innovations. The art style is also fun to watch, in contrast to Final Fantasy VII and even VIII which look extremely dated by today's standards. What started as a two session play will probably end with me playing well into the first disc worth of content, if not seeing it all the way through. I highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of any of genre or any of the games I have drawn comparison to, as well as anyone who may simply be trying to try out a classic JRPG. I have enjoyed my experience every time I have given it a playthrough.

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