A lengthy Easter weekend is always welcome and spirits rise in unison with day temperatures steadily climbing above zero Celcius. Exceptionally even gaming is momentarily all about recent titles. HarmoKnight, the fresh new 3DS rhythm game by Game Freak of the Pokémon fame was released just yesterday and despite its hefty price tag and digital nature, I had no qualms finding it a new home on the memory card. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have, even if it did provide a brief and original moment amidst brisk tunes. The player takes control of a young boy, Tempo, who wields an ancient note-like staff while running and jumping across the world of Harmonia, rhythmically beating the living heck out of mechanic Noizoid nasties that dream of world domination.
HarmoKnight's idea of combining an action platformer with music gaming is pretty shrewd. Tempo advances through automatically scrolling stages that frequently switch between 2D and 3D viewpoints while providing several alternative routes to take. Keeping in rhythm is achieved by well-timed jumps and strikes which require a good balance of sense of rhythm, keen eye, and reflexes. Noizoid boss stages in turn are Simon Says style challenges in which short button sequences have to be repeated accordingly.
The production values of the game are suitably high. It looks good, sounds good, and, most importantly, totally ignores any motion control gimmickry. Two buttons and the four faces of the direction controller – that's the whole game mechanic in all of its beautiful simplicity. There are even more than 50 stages, so all should be well. Unfortunately, HarmoKnight is undermined both by gameplay and length. The hit window of the notes is just slightly too narrow and there are moments when they come in so thick and fast that Tempo's five heart health reserve is ravaged at an alarming rate. By replaying earlier stages, it is possible to challenge any level with up to eight hearts but even that feels occasionally inadequate. None of this is a show-stopper, though, and the mini-adventure of the young hero can be completed in just a bit over three hours.
Some replay value can be found in improving scores, seeking out extras hidden in stages, or tackling them at a faster pace but rhythm games require an immaculate attention to highly-tuned precision and that's something HarmoKnight is lacking somewhat. It's essentially "nice" and I'll probably return to it every now and then but 15 euros for such a little snack is way too much (･_-｡ )
The 60 hours spent on The Wire were, however, one of the best entertainment time investments I've made in a long while! Tight storytelling was in abundance and the fates of several of its central characters truly wrung my heart. Some even in real life; Felicia Pearson, for example, was recruited into the series straight from the streets of Baltimore and she played the role of a seriously scary and callous ghetto gangsta in a brilliant fashion. Sadly, after the series ended, she fell back to her earlier life and as I understand, is currently serving a drug trade conviction in supervised probation (゜-゜)
Although The Wire seems to be regarded as one of the best TV series ever made, that doesn't mean it would be entirely flawless. The game of street made perfect sense but at times it felt like no one in Baltimore is willing to play fair, so to speak. Whether it was the police, politicians, lawyers, teachers, or reporters, nigh on everyone seemed to be involved in some shady business or the other, resulting in needlessly exaggerated drama. The pacing, too, could have been better. Each of the five seasons was built around one of the aforementioned parties in a slightly disposable fashion.
Nevertheless, The Wire is a starkly touching and frequently surprising series that closes its curtains in style and ultimately while it's still winning. As fun as it would have been to follow the life of Baltimore forevermore, it's better this way. Now to find some other gem that has already finished airing – in this gluttonous internet age, the mere thought of having to follow an intriguing story on a weekly basis, let alone trying to survive season breaks is just plain unfathomable (^_^;)
In other news, let's backtrack to last January, when Xbox 360 came back home, aided by a Microsoft moneyback campaign. The basic premise was simple: buy the console and a game, fill in a campaign form, mail it and the receipt to Microsoft, wait a whopping ten weeks, and get a reimbursement of 50 euros straight to your reported bank account. I was a bit sceptical on how such convoluted scheme would work in practice and – lo and behold – of course it doesn't work. It's now closer to 12 weeks since I mailed all the required documents, the reimbursement is nowhere to be seen, and the customer support mostly excels in escalating the issue somewhere else.
At the moment it seems like my issue is being handled somewhere in Ireland where they first claimed that the payment couldn't be processed due to missing bank details (yeah, right) and after delivering them a second time, they claim all is now in order and that I would get my money in 3-4 weeks. I believe it when I see it but this is certainly some bona fide customer bouncing right here. Granted, it's not a big deal but I'm peeved at how a needlessly complicated process to begin with just keeps on getting worse. Bureaucracy FTW (>_<)
Backtracking further, to the last day of last year, I recall making some New Year's resolutions about cutting down on impulse sale purchases. Although restraint carried a surprisingly long way this year, I guess the innate nature of resolutions is that they're to be broken. I blame, in particular, the local department store chains that a couple weeks back wanted so desperately to get rid of their games inventory that it would've been a crime not to take advantage of their deals. If the retail price of two or three games is enough to bolster the collection with twelve, then so be it. I regret nothing (￣^￣)
A business trip of a couple of days meant resorting to handheld entertainment. All it took was 3DS and Pullblox to make dull travel time more fun. The game is no longer a piece of cake and it has introduced a couple of new game mechanics, namely Mario-esque warp pipes and switches that fully pull out all same colored blocks in the level. The hardest challenges so far have taken a good fifteen minutes to work through and after nearly seven hours, my total tally of completed puzzles is still just 123.
Pullblox features a serene pace and simplicity distantly akin to Tetris but it no longer feels perfect. Stages depicting various items and animals are visually amusing and clever but there aren't that many of those. Most puzzles are just colorful rectangles constructed of tactically placed block formations. They guarantee a high level of challenge but not really much else. The lone, jolly background tune is also wearing itself out, although playing in silence is always an option.
Pullblox doesn't seem that captivating in large doses but as for all those brief 20-30 minute breaks, it's still a whole lot of fun.
Also, above a "brief" example of how I really need to keep a closer look on the fansub scene. It wasn't until a couple of days ago that I realized that Retro Game Master – a Japanese TV series about the comedian Shinya Arino playing through legendary or just plain weird NES games – garnered enough attention from eager fans to get at least some of its seasons subbed in English o(≧▽≦)o Oh well, better late than never and that looks just plain pure awesome! I can't help but foresee a brief couch potato marathon coming up in the near future (^_-)
Looks like 3DS' eShop is starting to warrant keeping an eye on. This time I walked away with a real gem released earlier this December, namely Pullblox (known in US as Pushmo). It's an endearing little puzzle game from Intelligent Systems probably best known for its Paper Mario and Advance Wars series. The game stars a chubby fellow named Mallo who ends up in Pullblox park full of structures with overly adventurous children stuck in them. These structures consist of various block formations that Mallo has to pull and push in order to create a path to the top to save the hapless little kids.
The puzzles start out as flat surfaces and their blocks can be pulled closer to the screen up to three times. Mallo can both pull and push them either from the front or the sides as long as he has at least one square of space to move onto and as long as he's not trying to move a block on which he is standing. He can also jump but that's all the moves available. This simplicity works brilliantly and after an easy start the level of challenge begins to rise pleasantly. There are no annoying time limits and if one suspects having made a mistake, recent actions can be rewound or the puzzle reset entirely.
There's plenty of head scratching to be experienced as the game has over 250 stages. After an hour and a half, I've only completed 50 of them. There's also a level editor that not only enables players to create their own puzzles but to share them as QR codes as well. After snapping a picture of those (e.g. this one) with the 3DS camera, the stage is instantly playable in the game. Pure design genius which together with gamers' love towards user-generated content should result in infinite enjoyment.
Having just scratched its surface, Pullblox already feels like the best downloadable game in ages and most definitely worth its six euro price tag!
Gaming after Christmas kicked off with 3DS' Mighty Switch Force! which turned out to be somewhat of a mispurchase. Even if it has its merits, this 2D action puzzler wrapped in a nice trailer and the praise of critics failed to impress. The heroine, Officer Patricia Wagon, is challenged to capture the five escaped Hoodlum Sisters from 16 different stages. As well as jumping and gunning, Patricia is capable of switching some blocks in the game world on and off. This skill is needed both to forge the way ahead and to either crush enemies or herd them to a better location in order to ensure progress.
As well as disappearing and appearing blocks there are catapults that wildly fling anyone who enters them into one of the four main directions. There's also walls to bring down with bombs as well as plenty of spiky pits and other dastardly traps. So, in theory there should be loads of action and head-scratching. Turns out there isn't. The stages are short and small and the difficulty level fails to find a balance. The first ten stages are done in less than an hour whereas the last few suddenly transform into a frustrating display of pixel perfect jumping and split second reacting. When switching blocks, jumping, and trying to stay alive also begins to require keeping some enemies alive at the same time, it's quite a mouthful to handle.
Technically Mighty Switch Force! is joyful, though. The retro-esque graphics, highly detailed animation, and especially the groovy soundtrack are just plain wonderful and Patricia's controls are sharp as well. There's never a moment when a blunder could be blamed on anyone but oneself. The biggest problems really are just the overall lack of content and the disappointing length. Not that I've yet even completed it but the remaining couple of stages feel more like annoying sadism than challenging fun. Besides, if the par times of the stages are to believe, the whole game can be seen in less than half an hour.
Speaking of which, those par times do a good job sucking away the rest of the fun. After Patricia finds all the prisoners and returns to her mecha to blast off to the next stage, pretty much the only reward is the game telling the player that he wasted six minutes when one and a half should've been enough. That's probably fantastic news for all speedrun fanatics ready to grind for that one, utterly perfect run but for us mere mortals, the clock constantly ticking on the background only adds to the stress.
Perhaps I'll be bothered to see this one through at some point but as an impulse buy, even for just six euros, I'm slightly disappointed.
Whee! I didn't expect this until next year but Rage is here alright. Mystic are the ways of international mail as some deliveries take mere four days whereas others take a month and are, by now, probably somewhere far, far away. In Brazil, enjoying daiquiris mayhap. Enjoying freedom. Whistling to AAA titles. Meds!
This year of gaming ends in digital purchases and they just remind me of how much the entire idea of a digital future sucks ass, mostly thanks to Sony. As I'm stupid and stuck to my way of doing things, I bought that delightfully unnerving Corpse Party and that lovably Japanese PS1 WTF retro title, Cho Aniki on my PS3 in order to move them to my PSP over USB. In this day and age of digital rights management, however, even that proved to be a challenge. Even after logging in with the same PSN account on them both and having coupled them together via USB, the end result was still a veritable display of all sorts of activations and firmware upgrades. It took a long time and by the end I just couldn't give a rat's ass what the devices were trying to tell or warn me about. Both games are now on my PSP and that's good enough. Most confusing and disappointing consumer experience ever.
The same on 3DS went a little better. The recent Mighty Switch Force! and its trailer were enticing enough to claim the price of my first ever eShop purchase but it still took an exceptionally long time to download.
Still, that's a definite end to any sort of games shopping in 2011. I'll now enjoy a brief break and hopefully return with something a bit more positive. Until then, peaceful and rewarding Christmas to you all!
3DS finally sees some proper action even if it would be retro. I went through Nintendo's pile of gifts from last Friday, ended up playing Wario Land 4, and was happy to find an old game still going strong. A legendary pyramid full of untold riches has been discovered in the middle of a jungle and that's all the rowdy and greedy Wario needs to know. Off to do some heavy duty looting and if a few ancient guardians beg to differ, too bad for them.
That's the gist of Wario's adventure and it's perfectly fine; 2D platformers rarely need a proper story anyway. Eighteen fairly large stages, six bosses, and diamonds up the wazoo – those are the building blocks of Wario Land 4. Jumping, shoulder-tackling, and butt-stomping Wario is a delightful character even on his own but as typical for Nintendo, his robbery trip is full of temporary special powers as well, should turning into a slowly lurching zombie, a floundering bat, or an unstoppable snowball count as such.
There are four distinctive areas and the player is free to tackle their stages in any order. Each one contains four pieces of a gem required to challenge the area bosses as well as a key to the next stage. Hunting for these is a relatively peaceful ordeal until a switch that opens a teleport back to the central hub is flipped. That's when a countdown starts ticking and Wario needs to rush back to the beginning of the stage as fast as possible, usually taking a vastly different route than the one that led him to the switch in the first place. Bosses, too, have to be defeated within a time limit which for some (ahem...) can be somewhat stressful.
For a game ten years old, Wario Land 4 still looks and sounds pretty fresh. The graphics are pleasantly colorful and animation in particular is top notch. Gameplay is by and large satisfactory, although the big and gorgeous bosses tend to require a lot of special moves that are hard to pull off as fast as required. Even when one does, the game might deem them as misses for some incomprehensible reason. This makes those bouts feel a tad unfair and caused enough cursing to make more modest people blush up to their ears. Still, perseverance (or occasionally sheer luck) prevails.
Somehow Wario Land 4 felt oddly short but looking back, it actually took about eight hours to beat. Thoroughly rummaging through each stage would most certainly yield plenty of surprises and additional challenge for a much longer period of time but even as-is, the game was a solid and entertaining experience.
In honor of this coming weekend I'll wrap the events of this entire week into one big lump. Gamers and gaming media have been talking a lot about Naughty Dog's The Last of Us, which made a surprise premiere in this year's Spike VGA. This PS3 exclusive came totally out of the blue and while the trailer isn't exactly mind-blowing – except for that poor undead (^_^;) – the developers said some very interesting things about it. Rather than gory survival the game supposedly concentrates on cinematic storytelling and characters. When even the lead designer of the really rather good Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is onboard, it's easy to get excited. Release date yet unknown.
Another surprise came in the form of this week's PSN Store update. Remember that extremely creepy PSP trailer a while back? It was Corpse Party alright but unfortunately Xseed decided to release it as a digital download only. I thought it would have only been released in US but lo and behold, it's in the European marketplace as well. It is going to be an instant purchase as soon as the mailman delivers me a slightly bigger memory card than the original 32MB (＾▽＾)
Then again, December is an awful time to order anything from anywhere. I already have some deliveries badly delayed or missing altogether (;¬_¬) The pictured bunch were those that made it from here and there in UK. Looks like economy is going down the drain so most stores have been forced to start their sales even before Christmas. As a result, the average price for those was a very pleasant 17 euros apiece. More about them should I find enough time to give them a go and should they prove to be worthy.
3DS also got its fair share of games. The second half of presents for us early adopters were given out today and that selection of ten GBA titles sure rocks big time! The earlier 10 NES titles weren't particularly exciting but those sure pack the potential of entertaining for quite a few hours. It took awhile to find them in the eShop but just like last time, they had been placed into the download history from where they were easily "re"downloaded. Yay!
September! Friday! Gaming weekend! Yay! All you hordes of readers no longer even have to suffer through childish whining and fussing about peculiar anime games (at least for awhile) as a delivery from VPD contained a Genuine, Honest-to-God Western Game o.O; It's technically an FPS but one that has been praised for its exceptional length, engrossing atmosphere, and... Well, just plain overall greatness, I guess. I am naturally talking about Deus Ex: Human Revolution and more specifically its Augmented Edition enhanced with a bonus DVD, a small art booklet, and some likely irrelevant DLC. Granted, I totally missed the original Deus Ex even if it got a PS2 port and everything. I'll make my cyberpunk amends with this one and dive in to find out just how much hardware it takes for a man to become a machine.
Oh yes, this one's literally yesterday's news but the first batch of bribery for early 3DS adopters is now available in the console's eShop. The ten free NES games ended up being the same all around the world, namely Super Mario Bros., Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Wrecking Crew, NES Open Tournament Golf, Donkey Kong Jr., Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and Mario & Yoshi. It remains to be seen whether I'll get excited about any of them but for a pile of retro, that's definitely a high quality pile! Still, I'm way more interested in the ten free GBA games released before the end of this year.