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    Into the Breach (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 21st, 2021 at 12:20:16)

    Well this was surprisingly short! I beat this rogue-lite on my second try. I thought it would give me like 15 hours, but it was about 4. I will chalk this up to the thousands of hours I've spent playing strategy RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and everything Atlus published in their PS2 SRPG heyday.

    In Into the Breach, you guide a squad of three mechs on missions to destroy the Vek, nasty alien bugs who are trying to kill all humans. You begin with a basic squad, one melee unit, one ranged cannon (just like a rook in chess), and one missile launcher. If you've played these kinds of games before, this is all familiar. They attack in different ways, you can level up their health and give them special abilities, yada yada yada.

    What sets Into the Breach apart is the focus on moving allies and enemies with attacks. You won't win by simply trying to do damage. All attacks move enemies in some way or another, and that is key to winning. The movement focus makes the game feel a lot like chess. You can push back, pull forward (with purchasable weapons), redirect enemies' attacks by moving them, make them attack one another, shove them into things, and use environmental effects to your advantage. For example, on one level (all of which are environmentally themed), the floor turns to lava and rocks rain down from the sky (thanks volcano!) every turn.

    Into the Breach gives you all the information you need to plan your moves. All enemy attacks are shown, all environmental damage is shown, you know where enemies will spawn each turn...enemies plan their attacks, and then it's your turn to respond. They don't attack until you take your turn. You can sit there and figure out the most ideal way to handle all the stuff that's going on to minimize damage to your mechs, and to the power grid (you're always defending buildings--if the power grid goes down, it's game over), and to maximize damage to the Vek. In that sense, the game is incredibly fair. The one time I died (one, ha), it was definitely my fault.

    There's some other stuff going on here too--some resource management, some risk-reward choices, leveling up pilots (which is important not least of all because you get to choose who you carry to your next game when you die), and so on. In the end, this is just a super tight tactics game. It wins for simplicity on the surface, but with a lot of depth down below. It's highly replayable, as when you complete achievements you unlock more "squads" with different types of mechs. This would be my motivation to continue playing, to follow this progression path, so I'll keep the game installed just in case. In the meantime, what's next?

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    80 Days (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 21st, 2021 at 07:42:21)

    This is a fantastic homage to the Jules Verne classic. If you've read the book, I think you will get a lot more out of the game (you'll understand more context, the personalities and relationship between Passepartout and Fogg, the one random appearance of Fix in my game, the Chinese opium den scene, etc.). But, essentially, it's an interactive visual novel re-telling of the story. The main change is that it drops the story in more of a steampunk setting. Instead of it being the 18xx of our history, this timeline has airships, commercial submarines, automata, and so on. This makes it different for those who know the original story and inspires wonder all over again.

    So, as you might expect, you have 80 days to circumnavigate the globe. As Passepartout, Fogg's loyal servant and valet, you are in charge of choosing your route, managing money and items, talking to people, and keeping Fogg comfortable. As you travel, you can buy and sell items (some of which fetch high prices in specific cities), but are confounded in this by the fact that different modes of transportation allow different numbers of suitcases, so you cannot just carry around all the useful and valuable items. Useful items include those that are part of "sets" (e.g., an altimeter and binoculars for the Airman's Set), which allow you to negotiate ticket prices and departure dates for modes of transportation, or may allow special conversations. Despite that, I never ran out of money until the very end, and I suspect that everyone runs out of money near the very end because the final leg of the journey suspiciously cost me nearly all I had left (a very random amount of $5300 of my $5476 for tickets, which set my heart beating quickly).

    Part of the excitement comes in seeing which routes open up as you travel, as your path will be winding! You start in London. I went from there east into Germany (or Prussia? Ouch, my history...). I had a route planned taking the Trans Siberian Railroad, but then decided to go south because I obtained some valuable item that could be sold in Southern Europe somewhere. Long story short, I wound up in the Middle East, headed toward India, and eventually took a wild airship ride all the way to Hong Kong. Then to Japan, then across the Pacific (with much drama, and my favorite part of my playthrough!) to the US. Across the US and over the Atlantic to London in 75 days. I definitely wanted to see other cities (like Singapore) and parts of the world (like the Caribbean and South America), but my time was running out! At some point it really did feel like a mad race to the finish, hoping that I could find efficient and affordable routes to finish within 80 days.

    The only thing I didn't like about the game is the conversation system. When you travel, you can talk to drivers, crew, other civilians, and Fogg. You can ask them about cities and routes (that's it) and they often reply with nonsense. "Can you tell me about the route from Atlanta to New York?" "I dare say! You can buy amethyst in Atlanta that sell for a fortune in San Pedro!" "What? Okay, that's not what I asked..." These conversations broke with the otherwise stellar writing. Seriously, playing this is like reading a book. It's so well done. I'm tempted to play it again to see more cities, try for a tough achievement, and read some more great writing. There are achievements for finishing as quickly as 40 days, not using banks (which I only did once just to try it! I would have gotten that achievement!), and not staying in hotels (which means Fogg has to sleep on the street, ha). Maybe sometime!



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    Assassin's Creed 2 (PS3)    by   jp       (Feb 16th, 2021 at 17:58:25)

    Still playing!

    I reckon I'm perhaps 2/3 of the way through the game at this point? I've reached Venice and have started doing some missions here. However, since I was planning on playing a lot, I've also spent time and resources upgrading the villa - to get more money faster - to buy all the stuff. This means that every now and then I have to go back to the villa to collect the cash (and drop off stuff) before heading out on a shopping spree. It gets a little bit tiresome to have to make your way back to the fast travel spot, travel, and then sprint some more.

    I think I've reached the point where I can resist the temptation to go loot a chest when I see one close by on the radar. I (mostly) have enough money at this point... that being said...

    1. I've started throwing coins around more often (those bards/troubadours are funny and annoying and it's the fastest way to get rid of them). At first I was like "these are really annoying" and then it turns out that's 100% why there were implemented. So, design was a success!

    2. I've also started hiring people (mercs, thieves, etc.) to help me out. I didn't before because of the expense but now I'm much for friendly to the idea because they really make things easier. So, murdering some guards, fighting the rest and so on is just too much effort when they can be distracted and I can wander in to loot a codex page they were guarding...

    3. There was a "back in the real world" interlude that was quite unsettling...in what it bodes for the future. I'm genuinely curious to know how the story wraps up. Perhaps a bit less so because AC2 had 2 direct sequels - but I'm not sure if they were really sequels? Or parallel stories? Anyways...

    4. REALLY surprised to play an Altair (short) sequence. Wow, I did not expect the games to connect that way. I think the protagonist (in the real-world) is the same for both games - but still, I thought this was cool. If I understood things correctly, Ezio Auditore is somehow related by blood to Altair?

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    XG Blast! (DS)    by   jp       (Feb 16th, 2021 at 17:46:13)

    So far this game seems like a little unexpected gem. It's essentially a twin-stick shooter on the DS. With nice "neon-future" art and...a story? And...well, there's more stuff but I haven't played enough yet to tell. I've only played 3 levels or so - so there's a campaign progression that includes branching paths (top or bottom bath?). I'm not sure yet why I'd try one or the other and I also don't quite understand yet what the powerup system is like, how it works, and so on.

    I'm definitely excited to keep on playing this.

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    GNOG (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Feb 15th, 2021 at 07:15:36)

    This was a freebie somewhere but looked cute and quirky. GNOG is a tactile puzzle game where you solve little scenes. All scenes have a front and a back. Usually there are a couple things to manipulate on the front, but you have to spin the scene around and open its back panel, revealing the interior where the real puzzle is. Solve it and you spin the scene back around and clickity click a button or something on the front to finish. You get a cute animated win screen and unlock the next puzzle.

    For example (and they aren't all this weird), in the most memorable level for me, the scene is a bird on a log, with worms popping out like in whack-a-mole. There are little stumps that you can click for the bird to land on, near where worms come out, and the bird will fly to the stumps and try to eat a worm (if it's currently there). I caught a worm and the bird flew to a hole in the stump and stuck its head in. I didn't know what was going on, and this was a lot for a puzzle front, so I flipped it around, opened the back panel, and realized that the bird was a momma bird and she was regurgitating the worm for her babies. You've got to rotate the thumbstick to spin a wheel and reveal bird eggs, which you click on to hatch. Once you've got a chick, you have to click and drag the momma bird's mouth to angle the food at the baby. Then click the baby to eat the food. It grows and becomes an adult bird.

    I did this for all 5 eggs (catching a new worm each time), but nothing happened. I realized that some of the birds were singing and that clicking on a bird toggles its singing on and off. I clicked around and realized that some sing on key and others sing off key. I made the three on-key birds sing and it triggered whatever it was on the front of the puzzle so that I could finish the scene.

    Other puzzles similarly proceed by you clicking around on things to figure out what they do. But the clicking isn't just randomly hoping something does something. It always makes sense, and there are often clues in the scene for how to sequence buttons and this or that. Other memorable scenes included the submarine and the robber (both of which were much bigger than the others). In the robber scene, for example, you have to help a robber steal money from four or five different houses, solving a little puzzle piece in each one. It was clever and I liked the playfulness of being a silly robber vacuuming up big gold coins. Puzzles are always fair, can be a little tricky, but thankfully are not terribly difficult. You have to play with the scene, so GNOG captures the spirit of like a toy box, or like those little tactile sets for children. I'm still a little peeved at the last puzzle though. I figured out that you have to line up a bunch of concentric circles, but I was trying to do it on the wrong plane and the game would not let me snap the last one into place. I finally looked it up and saw that I just had to put them on a different plane.

    The only downside to GNOG is the shitty, shitty "rotate" control. I played with a gamepad, so this involves spinning LS around to turn gears, dials, and the like. The command is so finnicky, really hard to control how things turn. This was super frustrating on the submarine level, where you have to turn a knob to fill the sub with water, then quickly turn it off at just the right time. It took me like 10 minutes to finally get it right. It's really frustrating knowing exactly what you are trying to do but being unable to do it, not because your skills are not sharp enough (as in a challenging platformer), but because the input doesn't work well. Still, GNOG is cute and charming and totally worth a couple hours of relaxing puzzle solving!

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    1 : dkirschner's Undertale (PC)
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    4 : dkirschner's 80 Days (PC)
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    Random

    God of War 2 (PS2)    by   dkirschner

    Fantastic game. Wonderfully cinematic. Epic. Combat is such fun, great level(s) of difficulty. Boss battles are very well done, puzzles pretty smart.
    most recent entry:   Monday 5 July, 2010
    God of War was awesome. God of War 2 is more of the same. I played the first one so long ago, maybe 3-4 years, that I can't compare the two side by side, but from what I remember, yea, it's basically the same as the sequel. You are Kratos, you are a badass, you are pissed off at the gods (Zeus in this case), and you go on an epic adventure in mythological places fighting hordes of mythological creatures (minotaurs, medusa [how do you say medusa plural?], and cyclops[es?]), and proving yourself over gods (Hermes, the Fates [not really gods], Zeus, and others I don't remember).

    When you defeat enemies, you receive various colored orbs that do various things. Reds accumulate to level up magic attacks and weapons. I was a fan of the bow and arrow magic in this game. The medusa head I never used. I remember earthquake being handy in places, as well as the lightning spell. I mostly used my main weapons and the berserk type ability to tear through difficult fights. And fights are difficult. One thing I enjoyed about the first game was the 10 minute epic boss fights and even the long regular battles that I found myself dying from and not upset to start over. Same in this game. The Zeus battle comes to mind. I did it a few times before perfecting my movements and timing of repelling his magic and shooting him with my bow and arrow. Also, the button context portion of the fight I did over and over memorizing when I'd have to react fast to the cues on screen, and eventually calming my hands down enough to press the correct buttons fast enough.

    This game looks absolutely fantastic on a PS2. It must be pushing the PS2 to its limits. The environments are so nicely done, detailed, and you can see far into the distance. I remember being very impressed by the Atlas level. One thing I didn't mind in the first game that bothered me in this is Kratos himself. He's too pissed off and yells a lot. I think in a few years, as with the last game, the intensity will stay with me, but I'll forget the details. These games are intense. They're masculine. You get pumped up and kill stuff and are a general asshole to accomplish your goals. You're on edge to mash the context commands. It's bloody. There are always naked women. Yea, I found myself only able to play for short spurts before it just being too much to handle. I don't care much about Kratos himself, as he seemed to be the same Kratos from GoW 1, just pissed for a slightly different reason.

    Oh right, and the opening battle is a massive boss fight. Totally cinematic and immersive from the get-go. I would have more to say about this, but I've played so many other things since then. Nice game, wonder if I'll get around to the third one some day.

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