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What I’ve Been Playing This Week

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Bloodborne: One of the nicest things about Bloodborne is the flexibility it affords in regards to playing it. Want a jolly co-operative adventure? You can do that. Want to go it alone? You are more than welcome to. Feeling the urge to fight other people? That’s an option. Feeling a little stuck, and needing a summon? Games got you covered. Want to try a challenge run? You’ll need to pick one first, there’s quite a few. It’s easy to go over leveled or under leveled, both work. And every weapon is viable, so there’s a build for everyone.

There’s always lots of talk about the From Software game, and how they harkens back to older games, by forcing people to play one way. Yet, with a little bit of digging, there’s so many other ways to play it.

Yet, right now it’s time to say good bye. The last few play sessions have been a bit lacking, and when I finally died to the Witch of Hemwick, well, it’s like the game is playing the role of a bartender telling you that you’ve had too much to drink and you need to go home. I’ll be coming back though, there’s still hunters who need to finish the hunt. This however leads into the next thing on this list.

I did finish with killing Martyr Logarious and Dark Beast Paarl, so I went into my break on a high note.

Dark Souls III: Dust, Claire – I’m sorry but you’ll have to sit on the sidelines for some time. You ain’t going to be getting any time right now. This was going to happen sooner or later given how much I loved Bloodborne. I would have liked to play Dark Souls first but I don’t have the PC to play it and Dark Souls III has been sat on my hard drive since January.

I am really liking my time was Dark Souls III. Definitely making my way towards loving Dark Souls III.  There are lots to explore, the environmental story telling is strong (as always) and there are those looping paths that I just love. I’m slowly getting used to the combat system (dodge rolling is different to side stepping) so there is still a lot to learn. I’ve done a few back stabs, and I have no idea how I did them. I think I’m getting it though. The last few have come in a cluster, so I’m doing something right.

Parrying seems more difficult here than in Bloodborne. I now carry around a great shield and that’s going well. The boss battles have been pretty great so far with Iudex Gundyr (1st attempt!), Vordt (2nd attempt!) and the Great Cursewood Tree (3rd attempt! – there’s a pattern here) having fallen. Joining them are the Crystal Sage (2nd attempt – sequence breaker) and The Abyss Watchers (2nd attempts). The Old Demon King (3rd attempt) and the Deacons of the Deep (1st attempt) are the latest additions to this list. I’m sure there’s a boss who’s going to be like Ludwig or Orphan coming up. For me it may be Wolnir. I haven’t a clue how to hurt him. I’ll figure it out though. There has to be. Many of my deaths are coming at the hands of regular enemies.

Levelling up also seems to be more complicated than in Bloodborne. There are more stats and I’m never quite sure if I’m ignoring something that I’ll need later on. There’s a carry weight to pay attention to now so that’s something new.

Still I’m marching on. I’ve had a blast exploring the Undead Settlement – just so many alleyways and side streets to explore. Bloomin marvellous. And the Crucifixion Woods/Farron’s Keep is great to walk around. Poison aside. It’s the feeling I had when playing Bloodborne all over again. I’m going in blind and every discovery is just amazing. It helps that the game is just gorgeous. The environments are great to look at with giant castles and cathedrals, along with vast forests and abandoned forts. Combine that with overcoming the game itself and I’m on to a good thing. There’s also the joy of seeing bosses for the first time, and figuring out attack patterns, followed by the excitement of figuring them out. From Software are just wonderful. Oh and the great NPC’s are back as well. Felt the need to mention that.

Also, the Esteus Flask is far superior to Blood Vials. I don’t have to farm anymore which is great so when I eventually hit a boss wall (it’s coming, I know it) the pace of the game won’t grind to a halt. That really is such a nice feeling.  And the bonfire is a superior image to the lantern. In a vast, uncaring dead land, the small act of sitting by a fire becomes that much more special, and intimidate.

There’s no Chalice Dungeons here. Thank the Christ lord for that.

And one more thing. Lovecraft is great, but dragons have a certain majesty that is impossible match. Dragons are awesome.

(Gfycat played up this morning, so no gifs. Sorry!)

Just Cause III: Rico Rodriguez blows things up. Lots of things.  

This didn’t start off too well. Games that involve analogue sticks and aiming guns with said sticks often leave me looking rather foolish. And I had lots of trouble early on with the locomotion options that game has. Rico has a grappling hook, which later allows you to tether things together. I didn’t know (still don’t actually) how to switch between tether mode and general transportation mode and as such had a torrid time trying to move around and avoid gunfire. There’s also a wing suit for gliding, and a parachute for safe landings.

But I put more time into it and have managed to get the tether stuck on transportation mode and well, Just Cause 3 is a ridiculous amount of fun. Everything is geared towards fun. It’s as if all those 80’s action films gave birth to a video game. Parachuting into a crowd of enemies as you gun them down, and then latching onto the bottom of a helicopter to plant an explosive charge before wing suiting away to freedom is a something that everyone needs to do at some point in their lives. The fact Rico gets all this at the beginning without unlocking it is actually pretty great. It’s just mayhem from the get go. Well, it was mayhem once I got used to the controls. For Just Cause veterans it would have been mayhem from the get go. I also get a real kick out of playing the floor is lava and seeing how long I can parachute and wing suit my way across the map.

All of that being said, it’s debatable if I am going to finish Just Cause 3. The map is massive, and I’m not sure if the game play loop as fun as it is can keep it going that long. Still, seeing as I got it on PS plus it’s been pretty great so far.

 Things I’m Looking Forward to Playing

Eitr: If you live in hope, prepare to die in desperation. I had honestly forgotten about Eitr until it came up in conversation with a friend. Since Bloodborne came along (and now with the advent of Dark Souls III) I love all things Souls, and after Jotun awakening a love of Norse myth and legend Eitr would scratch so many itches.

The problem here is Eitr was supposed to appear in 2016, and then everything went almost silent. The only thing of note was a small notice of a delay till 2017. More silence, until now as GOG has listed Eitr as coming soon, and the developers are talking. It could still be a distant hope, but I’ll hold out something.

Right now I’m going for Hammers and Axes in Dark Souls III, so I have a work around for Nordic Souls.

Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been thinking of something lately. It’s essentially a set of reactions for bosses in From Software games, although I guess it can be applied to other games as well. It’s graded in attempts taken. Let’s give it a go.

1 attempt – “Well that went well.” – Often accompanied by a sudden rush of excitement and giddiness. There is a down side to this though. Luck could have played a part and come NG+ cycles things can get a bit more difficult. But sometimes not. Everyone has that boss they just understand from the get go.

2 – 5 attempts – “I quickly assessed the attack patterns and cracked them relatively early which resulted in a well earned victory.” – This feels like a sweet spot. Just the right amount of attempts, ensuring some form of catharsis.

6 – 10 attempts – “I know the pattern now, I just have to execute now. See, I told you. It was all about the execution” – A situation when frustration is averted or at the very least excess frustration.

11 – 15 attempts – “It’ll happen – I’m sure it will happen.” – There’s always hope. Hope goes a long way. At this point you just rely on Andy Dufresne’s story from the Shawshank Redemption.

16+ attempts – Sentences don’t happen here much. A lot of communication is done in single words and gestures. Ones that society as deemed offensive most probably. The controller can now gain the hitherto unknown ability of flight. There’s no real change in the reactions beyond 16 attempts. They just get more severe as attempts increase. The bright side here is that the catharsis of victory can be off the charts. The other reaction is to descend into silence, often accompanied by a stare that bores through time itself. Best not to be bothered at this time.

In actuality at this point it’s probably better to walk away. Get some sleep – no, really, it helps a lot. Coming back the next day fresh is often a good thing.

Jotun, or how I learned to stop worrying and learned how to love maps

I’m not great at reading maps, and perhaps that is why I’m not fond of it. I’ve been more inclined to wander around, and find things by chance. It has led to fun stuff, and well, a 5 hour walk back from a Japanese mountain because I missed the last bus. Good times.

Some video games indulge the wandering aspect. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was particularly great at this, at least until encountering a monster 27 levels higher than me. And Yharnam is just a wanderers dream. But with some games, there are just so many places to go, and things to collect that I just ended up using a map and waypoints.  That was true with Horizon Zero Dawn, which I really didn’t mind given how beautiful the game is but that really doesn’t involve any map reading. It was just waypoint following.

This brings us to Jotun, one of my (surprise) favourite games of the year. Each of the realms in Jotun is accompanied by a map. There aren’t particularly big maps, but there’s enough there that requires some navigation skill. Jotun doesn’t tell you where you are on the map. This was an initial source of frustration, given my distaste of map reading and more likely contributed to Jotun being sent to the back log for a while.

Upon returning to Jotun, I played through one of the simpler maps and fell back in love with the artwork (an incredibly easy thing to do).  What I found is if you explore Jotun thoroughly, you not only get to see more beautiful artwork but there are items to find, and what pleased me more information about Norse mythology. So I began to seek out these, which meant I had to read maps.

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A grand old map.

This brought me to Hvergelmir, where the roots of Yggdrasil, the great ash tree lie. It is one of Jotun’s more maze like realms, a mess of platforms linked by roots and it’s always going downhill, Thora sliding down the roots. At certain points stalactites will drop from the roof, so we have to get our dodge roll on. To get back up to the higher platforms, there are elevators of sort, but they are only on certain outcroppings, and they aren’t many in number. So I had to seriously start looking at the map, ascertaining which platform I was on and where the next root slide would take me.

And it turns out I really like finding my way around sans waypoints. There is a certain joy in figuring out the way forward, and that feeling only gets more joyful upon arriving at ones destination. It really turns into a genuine sense of accomplishment. I would be open to feeling more often. It was nice to identify individual platforms by checking the map and seeing the size and contours of the outcroppings. All of this made the things I found and saw in Jotun that much more rewarding. This was particularly true of the God Power bestowed upon Thora in Hvergelmir. It’s out on the perimeter, so when I found the necessary patch of land with the right elevator to ride up to it, that felt pretty damn great.

I’ve spoken before about set up and pay off in regards to Jotun, and I feel that shines through in the realm of Hvergelmir. We know from Thora’s introductory dialogue that in the roots of Yggdrasil resides the great worm Níðhǫggr who is constantly gnawing at the great ash tree’s roots (I’ve learned all of this from a video game. Without it feeling forced. I love that). Given the size and scale of Yggdrasil, Níðhǫggr must be a creature of immense size. As we get further and further down the tree, the roof caves in even more and falling debris must now be navigated while sliding down the tree roots. Then the last corner comes up, the music swells (I feel Jotun has a really underrated soundtrack) and the camera pans out, and there is the Níðhǫggr, far larger than I could have ever imagined. And there, at the very end lies the rune we seek and the elevator that takes us back to the beginning of the realm.

Through a combination of brilliant artwork and Norse mythology, Jotun showed me the joy of map reading, and the happiness felt on finding my own way forward. I see less waypoints in the future right now.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Bloodborne: There’s one sound I love in Bloodborne, more than any other. It is the hum of the lantern. And it’s at its most effective after a boss fight. After the carnage has ended, and the hunter stands there, clothes splattered in blood there’s that familiar hum. The noise that signifies the danger has passed, that we can return to the safety of the hunters dream. And because Bloodborne eschews music outside of boss fights (mostly) the hum of the lantern comes across that much clearer.

And a random thought on the visceral attack. It’s great to do, deals massive amounts of damage and renders some troublesome encounters trivial. But there’s a secondary effect it has, and that is slowing the fight down. When locked in a tough battle, and on the back foot, the break in time that is the parry and the follow up visceral attack really allows you to consider new plans of attack, to take stock of what has gone on and heal up if necessary. It really is a multi functional game mechanic.

I know this is the second visceral attack on Laurence in as many round ups. I just don’t like Laurence.

Also, please, please, please remember to back up your save files. My PS4 power cable caught on something and came undone, which in turn corrupted Bloodborne’s save files. However, thanks to the USB backup made just moments before, the lives of 4 hunters were saved. Backups are good, backups are great.

Claire Extended Edition: A 2D horror game that pits its titular character in a hospital with her dying mother. What follows is a series of visions and hallucinations as Claire must figure out what is happening.

I’m early into the game, but I’m finding that 2 dimensional horror works better than I thought it would. In 3 dimensions things can placed around corners, or placed at distance to induce dread and unease (Pyramid Head at the end of the corridor in Silent Hill 2). But Claire still manages to pull off uneasy and unsettling, contributing to a pretty good atmosphere. This is further enhanced by the artwork. The graphics are pixelated, but still firmly in the unsettling camp. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Claire a life changing experience, but it’s coming along rather well, and I want to find out the cause of the sinister happenings at the hospital.

There are also NPC’s to talk to (I’ve only spoken to one though, so I can’t comment too much on their qualities) notes to gather which add more context the story and there are multiple endings to get as well. So there appear to be branching paths. I can’t guarantee a re-play at this point, but it’s nice to know there are reasons for doing that.

On starting the game up, the game gives you 3 difficulty settings. A story mode difficulty were the game is easy so you can enjoy the story, and then there’s a regular difficulty and a hard difficulty for the challenge. And I really like that. More games should do that. And if they already do this I should check them out.

Also, this is silly, but Claire’s jumping animation makes me laugh. She keeps her arms by her sides. It just makes me giggle everytime.

Dust, an Elysian Tail: This is a Metroidvania. So far it’s shaping up to be a good example of the genre. As with Claire, I’m not too far into it, but I’ve enjoyed my time with it. The combats pretty good but I do find myself button mashing a fair bit. The game has explained combos, but lots of square buttons mixed with the odd triangle seem to do the job. Special attacks complement the combos and there’s a parry system as well.  So it seems to be a combat system that allows for simplicity, but also lets players use more advanced techniques. That’s pretty cool.

The artwork for the world is pretty damn beautiful. Lush forests, lovingly crafted pagodas and there’s a nice rotation of weather as well. All of the characters are of the anthropomorphic style. Animals with human proportions and such. This may be a deal breaker for some people, but it doesn’t bother me. Everyone’s well drawn and animated and they fit into the world around them.

Not sure there’s going to be awards handed out for the story though. A hero with amnesia, a sacred sword and a world that needs saving. It serves a purpose. But it moves at a quick pace. So that’s pretty great. That being said, there have been some NPC’s with branching dialogue, so there may be some twists up ahead. But so far, so serviceable.

Dust has shown a smattering of Meta jokes and comments so far. Some of these are okay. Those are the best of them. All of them are a bit on the nose. As an example, there are some vines we are told to climb and then we proceed to slip down them. At which point our helper says something to the effect of “don’t worry, if we come back later we can get up there”. Backtracking, Metroidvania. Do you get it? No, really, do you? We have to backtrack, because it’s a Metroidvania. I guess if you’ve never played a game like this it would work, but for me it’s mainly eye rolling resignation.

Our helper is called Fidget, and she occupies the Navi role in this game. Sometimes she’s funny; sometimes you just want to cave her face in with a cricket bat.

But for the most part, it has been so far so good with Dust. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

Last Guardian: While I’m really enjoying The Last Guardian, there are some issues. It still bothers me that the game has perfect moments of visual storytelling and then insists on explaining them with a voice over. Don’t do that.

Sometimes I’m never quite sure when game play ends and starts again. Trico will do his thing (I think he’s a he), jumping from platform to platform but sometimes it just seems pre-programmed, like it’s a scene transition. It’s still a worthy spectacle though; I’m just not sure how much I have to do with it.

Dealing with enemies can be annoying as well, at least without Trico around. The camera doesn’t handle on foot combat that well (well, on foot avoidance if I’m being honest) and if you are grabbed by them, it’s a case of button mashing for freedom. It’s just tedious all round.

 

Those two points considered there are multiple times when the game shows just why I like it as much as I do. A lot of it is Trico. It’s in way he lazily plonks himself down and scratches his ear. His curiosity towards the world around him, sniffing and batting object that catch his gaze. The way Trico cocks his head when called upon, or noticing food. Trico’s eyes turning white and his feathers rising upon seeing an enemy. The little nervous shake Trico makes before launching into a jump. It’s easy to grow fond of Trico.

There was one moment when those elements came together. Trico was atop a great spire, gazing upon the world around. I then noticed where we had to go, so I climbed up onto his back and pointed out to him the platform above us. He caught sight of it, tilting his head like a confused dog at which point I petted him, to reassure him. Confidence rising, he crouched before launching himself to the platform. All the while I gripped tightly to Trico’s feathers. No matter what the issues with the game, it gives you moments like that. No other game will do that.

Games I’ve Finished This Week:

Jotun: I thoroughly enjoyed Jotun. All of Jotun in fact. I really dug the realms, and exploring every part of them even those realms devoid of enemies. Maybe it’s that part of me that enjoys hiking through and up empty mountain sides, being accompanied by only my thoughts. Jotun gave me plenty of that, and I was more than thankful for that. This accompanied with the size and scale of everything, I honestly felt I was in the realm of the Gods. Also, I now really want to visit Scandinavia.

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The world is very big, and I am very small.

I couldn’t talk about finishing Jotun without mentioning the boss fights. There are 6 of them in total, and they are all in keeping with Jotun’s hand drawn animation and so very beautiful for it. From a gameplay point of view attack patterns are fun to learn, and rewarding to crack. This is further enhanced by the bosses having 2 phases, sometimes requiring more precise movements and some requiring new attack plans all together. The Jotun’s themselves tower over our heroine Thora, and that size and scale really contributes to the joy and catharsis that comes from felling a giant.

Also I will say there are trophies for beating bosses without taking damage, without using the God powers and for doing bosses under certain time limits (Kaunan’s is 60 seconds). If one feels like an extra challenge, they are there for the taking. For me, I feel frustration would claim me at some point.

Some spoilers for the final battle here, so pass by this section if need be. It’s a fight against Odin and it’s in keeping with the rest of the boss fights, up to a point. But then the second half kicks in, and he begins to summon the spirits of the slain Jotun to attack you. After the one on one battles, it feels a bit of a cop out. Just something that seems a little challenge for challenge sake. It’s still a fun challenge to surmount, but I would have prepared a one on one showdown with the All Father.

The ending sequence is one of gorgeous animation. On the whole, a game that gave me a massive amount of joy. Also, I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while, whoever did Thora’s voice acting, damn fine job. I can’t find a name, but damn fine job. Damn fine job to the whole team

Jotun, and Jörmungandr’s Lake

Jotun has a great sense of scale, and the payoff and reveal of set piece moments is very well constructed. The two often come together, and the realm of Jörmungandr’s Lake shows this combination off very well.

Pay off requires build up, and we get that just from the name of the realm. Thora also talks of the Jörmungandr, the offspring of Loki and the slayer of Thor. Anything that slayed Thor must be very strong, so this being is clearly powerful. The scale of the cliffs leading up to the lake gives hints to the size of the inhabitant of the lake. The lake itself is a vast plain of ice. There are fish circling below, but the depth of this lake means there’s something big here. Yet, we’ve seen nothing so far. Then a black shape surges below. Many moments pass before it tapers off into the abyss.

The ice is slippery underfoot, which adds an element of challenge meaning Thora’s timing will have to be exact if anything happens. Below the ice something stirs. Something baring teeth. Closer and closer still it comes. It’s clear a dodge is needed. The ice splinters, and then shatters, the Jörmungandr reaching towards the sky itself. Then it dives below. The rune Thora seeks lies across the ice. And the way out requires a trek back across the frozen expanse.

The setup and payoff for Jörmungandr pleases me for a number of reasons. It isn’t rushed. It’s paced well. We get an early set up (Thora’s introductory speech), a timely reminder (Jörmungandr passing underneath) and a perfect reveal, with broken ice left in its wake. And Jörmungandr lives up to the reveal, in the combination of its sheer size and the beautiful artwork that brings it to life.

Jotun Map

Something to note here is the size of the map. Not too big, and not too small. It’s large enough to encourage exploration, but not so large as to make exploration a chore. It reminds me of why I like Yharnam so much.  That’s a fine thing. What also helps is that everything that can be found here is actually worth finding. There’s new abilities for Thora to use, an item that boosts the size of the health bar and information about Norse myth and legend. And to go back to the use of scale in Jotun, all of these things are massive in comparison to Thora, further conveying the size of the world we are in.

Jotun_20170714231817I feel there’s very little fat here. That’s a nice thing to see.

This gets mentioned a lot when it comes to Jotun, even in this previously in this piece, but it’s not without good reason. The artwork is just gorgeous. Well crafted hand drawn artwork carries itself very well, and Jotun may be at the peak of this in video games. That alone makes the realms worth exploring. I just want to see more it. I don’t want to leave until I’ve seen all of it. Each realm has a moment where the camera pans out to reveal a beautiful vista or scene. It plays into the scale I talked about earlier, showing just how big this realm is, and how small Thora is in it, and just how great of an achievement it is for Thora to work her way through it. Thora really is treading a measure with the Gods.

Truthfully this isn’t the Rune from this level. I found the rune here a long time ago before I figured out video recording. But the effect is similar.

It has to be said that Jörmungandr’s Lake is one of Jotun’s more action orientated realms. Other ones are puzzle and navigation based, and I will talk about one of those at a later date. But Jörmungandr’s Lake is one of Jotun’s great realms. For the great artwork, the scale of the place and the challenge we navigate.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Bloodborne: 7th play through finished. 8th is a NG+ that’s half way done, and the Rakuyo run will start soon.  Let’s just assume this will be here until I say it’s not. That’ll be easier.

I think one of the reasons I keep playing Bloodborne is how streamlined the whole thing is (at least in my eyes). As an example I’ll compare it to Horizon Zero Dawn. Now I really like Horizon Zero Dawn. But when you want a new weapon or suit of armour you have to not only have the necessary payment but a bunch of random parts. With Bloodborne, it’s just blood echoes. That’s it. In HZD and Nier: Automata to upgrade weapons you need a bunch of random parts, in addition to currency. In Bloodborne, it’s just shards/chunks/rocks and blood echoes (and it’s a really small amount of echoes). That system really comes into its own when doing multiple runs. I just love it.

It is worth pointing out Blood Rocks are sparse (only two in the game – 1 in the regular game and 1 in the DLC) so very few weapons ever see top level. But any particular build will dovetail to a few weapons anyway, and you can always buy Blood Rocks after offing Mergo’s Wet Nurse. But that is an advantage of the crafting system. You can always scavenge for more parts, therefore upgrading more weapons.

But as someone who does settle on weapons, the Bloodborne system does wonders for me. I know which weapons are going to feature in a run, and I can just set about upgrading them. I don’t have to find 3 rabbit tails and 4 broken twigs to fix up a bow. It really takes out unnecessary down time.

The Last Guardian: I’ve talking about playing this for a while. I think I’ve hit the halfway point. The first night I turned it on I figured I would play about an hour or so to get a feel for it. I proceeded to play the game for 5 hours straight. That’s a pretty good first impression. With some more time under my belt, I still like it but there is some jank there.

I want to talk about Trico. Trico is a most wonderful creation. I’ve found him to be (mostly) responsive and full of character. His little head shakes and when he sits down to scratch behind his ear contribute lots to his being. It appears that if I’m patient with Trico, everything is fine. If I give Trico one command he takes it in, listens and then does it. If I spam commands, then he gets a little cranky. Basically, if I treat Trico as an actual animal and less a video game character, we get along just great. And I make sure to pet him every time he does something good. However, like an actual animal, he can get distracted. One time he just started staring at a lantern until I got him to jump up to a ledge. I can see how people find that frustrating, but I found it endearing. Another occasion I worked out a plan to get to a tall ledge but then I saw Trico playfully batting a chain around so I just climbed onto his back and got on the chain. That was pretty great right there. And gripping onto Trico’s back when he jumps across a chasm is an amazing experience, almost unparalleled in video games.

The camera however can be very janky. It can swerve at abrupt angles sometimes losing sight of the player character entirely. And the player character controls thoroughly okay. He isn’t awful to control but he’s not excellent either. I thought he was pretty good but then I went and played Bloodborne again and upon coming back…well, I know that combat controls require more responsiveness, but for even just walking around, the little kid is a little unresponsive. Not cripplingly so, but enough for some adjustments to be made.

As a last point, the game’s writing is a little off. It has great moments of storytelling with game play alone and then insists on having a voice over explaining that point when it doesn’t need it. It’s rather infuriating and completely unnecessary. Journey set my standard for this and Bloodborne continued it. If the point has been made with game play and the environment, leave well alone.

Not many, if any other games out there play like the Last Guardian. It’s a completely different experience and I’d argue it’s worth trying out, even with the jank. And it’s always nice to see something unique in mainstream gaming.

Jotun: Jotun follows the story Thora, a Viking women who met an unfortunate fate at sea. However, the God’s grant her a second chance to ascend to Valhalla if she can defeat 5 giant’s (Jotun). To fight the Jotun Thora must locate runes located in levels accessible from a central hub world (Ginnungagap).

Jotun_20170714234935

This is an absurdly beautiful game. It’s just glorious to look upon it. The hub world, the levels themselves and the characters are just beautifully illustrated and animated.

The combat is pretty simple, consisting of a light attack and a heavy attack coming from Thora’s axe. But it feels good, and there is a feeling impact with each hit. The game controls well, and everything feels responsive from walking around to axe swinging, and in a game featuring combat that’s always good. There’s a dodge roll as well, and a good dodge roll is always welcome. The levels themselves are sparse, but I love that. There’s a great sense of exploration and scale, with you being small, and the world being massive. As well as the runes, there are shrines dedicated to various Norse figures that bestow Thora with special abilities. And they are all pretty useful, ranging from healing to a weapon buff from Thor’s lightening to a burst of speed.

Another thing in the games favour is authenticity. The game is subtitled as the language is Icelandic, and it works just right. Thora’s voice actress does a great job. Throughout the level there are points that trigger events that not only look great but hand out information about Norse mythology. Ratatosk is a squirrel that climbs up and down the great ash tree (Yggsdrasil), carrying Vethrfolnir’s (the falcon that sits on the head of the unnamed eagle that lives atop Yggsdrasil) thoughts down to Nidhogg the great worm. A video game taught me that with game play and exploration alone. I love that. That’s great!

I’m just having a great time with this.

What’s in Limbo:

Nier: Automata: (Possible Spoilers) I’ve got two endings left to get (C and E). I’m torn between blitzing the two of them, or just setting the game aside for a few months so I can replay it later on down the line. Truthfully, I’m struggling to summon up the want to play it. I don’t know if I’ve approached the game with the wrong mind set because I and the game haven’t jived at all. There’s a major disconnect here, and I’m trying to figure it out.

I’ve found the open world very tedious to navigate, resorting to fast travel for every eventuality. The gameplay of the side quests has annoyed me greatly. I’m marking points on the map then fast traveling just to talk to someone and repeating that as many times necessary. Or I’m fast traveling somewhere to kill some robots just to find parts for someone. There’s been escort missions but they’ve been simple as well. The content of the quests can be pretty damn great, but not great enough to offset the tediousness of the side quests. I’m getting very little from the combat. It’s not badly done or anything like that. It functions well enough and looks pretty damn cool but it’s not meshing with me. I think it’s to do with the weight of the combat. In Bloodborne it actually feels like him hitting something. Hits have weight to them, and for boss fights a sense of consequence. In Nier, it feels like I’m reducing a health bar, just hitting the thing until it dies. It doesn’t really feel like I’m hitting anything. Particularly with humanoid enemies. There just seems to be a lack of feedback. Maybe I should play some other Platinum games to see what the combat is like in a more dedicated spectacle fighter like Bayonetta, or Revengence? This is my first Platinum game, so maybe that’s got something to do with it. 9S comes with a hacking ability which I used a lot just to circumnavigate the combat. I’ve found the boss fights to be very drawn out. They have reminded me of (in the worst way) Dragonball Z fights. Lots of noise and flash, with a new move appearing once in a while, but nothing really sticking. Also, a lot of them end with cut scenes, as opposed to me landing the final blow. That’s annoying to me. As much as I didn’t like them, I did the work to get that far so I to have the final moment represented as cut scene and not gameplay is a little off to me.

Many of the characters haven’t really grabbed me and I have very little investment in their endeavours. Also, did 9S go to the Darth Vader Episode III acting school? You don’t have to yell and scream every angry or sad emotion you have.

There is great stuff there. Some of the perspective shifts are great. Pascal is just the best character, followed closely by Engels and there’s some genuinely touching moments. And some parts of the world are pretty damn great. Well, at least on the first go through.  I also really dig the hacking mini game as I alluded to before. Taking over machines is great, and detonating a machine in the middle of a crowd is pretty great. I particularly like when the hacking is incorporated directly into the story. That leads to some great stuff.

I’m aware of this critique lacking somewhat due to the fact I haven’t finished the game. But I really don’t want to. It’s at the point where I look at the game on my PS4 and just think “Do I have to play you? Really?”

So yeah, perhaps it’s best I just sit this out, give it a while and try and come back fresh. It’s not gone all that great the first time through. I’m just disappointed more than anything with how this has gone.

Shovel Knight, and Loving Gaming all over again

Some spoilers do lie ahead. Just a heads up. There is also assumed knowledge here. This isn’t so much a review but a story of falling in love with gaming again.

It was somewhere between 6 months to a year. After my fall out with Pokemon (see here) I stopped playing video games. I just didn’t want to play video game anymore. Everything about them seemed to be a waste of time. And as such video games were cast aside. Maybe I had the notion as one gets older video games needed to go, or some other silly and wrong notion.

When returning to something, it’s good to go through a safe channel. A sense of familiarity can be of immense help. And it was nostalgia that dragged me back. My earliest gaming memories were of platformers (specifically sonic – I had a mega drive as a kid). Shovel Knight had been out for some time. It managed to catch my interest just long enough for me to make a purchase. The price seemed fair enough, so why not? It would be no great loss if I didn’t enjoy Shovel Knight.

The intense love I have for Bloodborne is all thanks to Shovel Knight. Experiencing the sheer joy that is Chrono Trigger was due to Shovel Knight. The enjoyment I’ve derived from Oxenfree’s dialogue system. The emotional path carved out by Journey. All my frantic runs through the dos houses of Hotline Miami. Every oni I hunted down in Toukiden: Kiwami. All the stories I enjoyed in What Remains of Edith Finch. Basically, every video game I’ve played since. All thanks to Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight not only got me back into gaming, it reignited my love of gaming. This thing that had shrivelled and died suddenly found new life, new joy.

This does mean however I really can’t look at Shovel Knight in any real critical way. I just have too much love and reverence for it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t list some of the things that really got me excited about gaming again. So let’s get to that, and some life affirming happiness. One thing to state right off the bat. The game is mechanically strong. Inputs are clearly registered, the jumping is good (doesn’t float, just the right height) and Shovel Knight himself moves at a good pace. With all of that in place, a good platformer can be built.

Every platforming game needs a strong musical theme for the first level. It needs to be something that carries with it a strong sense of adventure. There is a need to convey the importance of our quest and the need to complete it, to surmount any obstacles that may lie in our way.

I honestly think on some level, after being so jaded with gaming that a level like this one is what I needed, something that could generate excitement and feelings of wonderment.

After that I’m rescuing Shield Knight. I have to. And I want to state, the handling of Shield Knight is brilliantly done. I’m going to refer to Yahtzee Crowshaw’s Zero Punctuation for this. I did intend to write about this, but I would just be rewriting what Yahtzee said.

And it’s not just the opening theme that is that good. The soundtrack remains strong throughout and in truth, on levels I felt the difficulty was getting to me, it was the music kept me going. Wind and spikes aren’t best when mixed together.

Gears can also be of something of an annoyance. Again, the music carried me through the challenging times. The soundtrack came through so many times. The whole score is a great achievement.

Shovel Knight doesn’t have a live system. I hate the lives system. There is a more elegant way to write that, but I feel like being direct. It really should have died after arcade games came to home consoles and such, but it didn’t. I don’t mind games being challenging, and I don’t mind being penalised for mistakes. Making me repeat the same bit of a level over and over again is really annoying. It gets particularly annoying when part of a level becomes rote, and having to repeat that over and over ceases to be a challenge, and merely an annoyance. A long drawn out annoyance.

Shovel Knight has a check point system. These check points can be broken for additional resources and an added challenge. In addition there is a Dark Souls style recovery system. Well spaced out markers ensure challenges are rewarded which results in a steady sense of progress through a level and those players wanting a higher level of challenge can break the check points. And the recovery mechanic means there is always a chance of the player recovering any lost resources. So instead of getting bogged down and frustrated on my return to gaming, I had a nice steady sense of progress. That’s great!

After finishing Shovel Knight’s loving crafted campaign a new set of levels are unlocked. The challenges. These feature platforming gauntlets that require perfect timing while set against a timer. There are also boss fights with severely reduced health meaning one has to play exceptionally well to complete them.  The fact I managed to do all of them (backed by copious amounts of swearing) counts as one of my favourite achievements in gaming. After finishing a good and well executed story it felt go to through myself at some gaming purely based on mechanics and challenge. Shovel Knight gave me the best of both worlds.

Last, but not to be the least is just how much fun the whole game is. Shovel Knight’s world is a vibrant one with great pixel art and striking colour. There’s a multitude of great NPC’s with some wonderful one liners and the encounter dialogue with the bosses are super. “You gyroscopic jester” and “Steel Thy Shovel” are two of my favourites but I’m pretty sure I could find many more for you. And the bosses themselves complement their respective areas wonderfully, as well as being both great and fair challenges. Coming back to a game like this really did remind just how good, and how fun gaming could be. Thank you Shovel Knight, and thank you Yacht Games. You’re wonderful. If no one’s told you that already, you’re wonderful.

~~~

No gifs today. I played Shovel Knight on the 3DS and I have no means of capturing that footage.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

What I’ve been playing this week:

Bloodborne: Sixth play through finished! Got two NG+’s on the go, and I’m planning a skill build for the Rakuyo. Really though, I can stop whenever I want to.

Being serious for a moment. Perhaps I’m wrong about this but when people recommend Bloodborne (and presumably other From Soft games) they always talk about how difficult they are and other things related to that. But never do I hear talk of the NPC’s. They’re brilliant! All of them. The locals who won’t open their doors to you sound as you would during something as terrifying as the hunt. And their rejections of outsiders ties in nicely with the item descriptions. The NPC hunters are wonderful. Alfred and Eileen particularly but I would be remiss not to mention Valtr and Simon. Alfred has the best unhinged moment in gaming and Eileen’s heavy breathing after fighting Henryk is a great human moment. Valtr just brims with fire and rage and Simon joins with Eileen and the Doll to form my three Bloodborne nevers (I refuse to hurt them under any circumstances). Actually that said I’ve never hurt Valtr either. Factor in the Chapel Dwellers and the Iosefka saga and it just gets better. When recommending Bloodborne, please mention all of this. And the dialogue and voice acting is good. And not in the “it’s good considering it’s a video game” good but legitimately good. Seriously, it’s an area of the game that’s worth talking about.

But really though, never hurt the doll.

Nier Automata: That’s ending D all wrapped up, just leaving C and E. Well, those and all the joke endings. I’m not getting those ones. I’m going to finish when I can, let it sink in and then get to it. I’ve posted some thoughts before, but there will be a lot to ruminate on.

Neon Chrome: A free offering on PSN. A rougey shooter thing. You know the drill. Multiple floors, perks, permadeath, RNG. The works. I thought it would be okay, but I’ve had quite a bit of fun with it. The weapons are fun and punchy, the boss fights so far have been pretty neat and yeah, it’s not bad. Not bad at all. Also, if you reach floor 3, you can restart from there on the next run, and that’s cool.

There’s a story, but it’s in the background. We are here to shoot stuff, and that we do.

ABZU: I’ve been watching lots of David Attenborough on YouTube lately and inevitably I ended up watching some Blue Planet clips. And inevitably I had to play ABZU again.

I still love it. Just a beautiful game with some amazing sequences.

Absolute Drift: More fun with drifting.

What I’ve finished this week:

Oxenfree: Colour me thoroughly impressed. I’m definitely considering a replay, because there seem to be multiple endings and different story arcs depending on the choices you make. While playing Oxenfree I got a strong sense of the developers nailing down what they wanted to do early on and getting those to work as best they could. The dialogue system, the characters and the story all stand out. And the dialogue itself is good as well, sounding natural. I’ve heard some say it sounds like adults writing what they think teens sound like, but outside of a few lines the dialogue holds up rather well. Definitely a game worth checking out. Playing blind may be the best option though. I’ll say that much.

Limbo/Inside: I started Limbo first but finished Inside first, Limbo not long after. I would recommend both of them (even though by this point you have probably played Limbo). What I will mention is that in terms of gameplay, there isn’t much evolution between the two. Which I can understand. Limbo has solid gameplay and it really didn’t require much in terms of changes or tweaks. But if you were expecting some changes, that could be a source of disappointment. Story wise, the delivery is similar in both games but the content and imagery is very different. I’d recommend blind play throughs of both, but particularly Inside. The entire ending sequence is something special. Bizarre, surreal, horrifying but special.

What I’m looking to play:

Last Guardian: It’s still on the pile of games to play. I’ll get there one day.

Gravity Rush 2: I may be all open worlded out, so there’s a possibility this will sit on the back log for a while. But I had a lot of fun with the first one, so there’s always a chance.

The Last of Us: Bought this on sale. I really should get around to it.

Gifs I’ve made this week:

ABZU is just wonderful.

He asked for more blood.

Pleasant view.

Timing Spin 2 Win correctly is really satisfying.

Perfect placement.

Clashing blades.

Absolute Drift

In video games, depending on one central mechanic and only that mechanic can be troublesome. Nail it, and we are in a good space. Miss it and the entire games a goner.

Absolute Drift is based entirely around drifting. Drifting means everything to this game. Its name, its progression, its scoring are all driven by drifting. The longer a drift the higher the score multiplier goes. Crashing or not drifting resets the multiplier. There is nothing but drifting. There is nothing that resembles a story. Unless you want to run with your own story about a driver in a world gone mad that can only be saved by drifting. If the drifting mechanic fails, there will be trouble ahead. There is a really cool soundtrack though, and the graphics are nice, stylish. But neither of those can save a game if the game play isn’t there.

The game has a reward for completing a ten second drift. At first, that seems reasonable. I figured ten seconds isn’t that long. That’s an attainable goal.

My initial drifts lasted 1 – 2 seconds. They often ended up in a head long crash into a wall, or sideways crash into a wall. If not ending in a crash, I spun out. My car spinning in fruitless little circles, accruing only shame, not points. And some cases, drifts would even fail to start. They would just be a straight line with wobbles.

The game has an over world filled with little challenges. These allow for skills to be honed and foster a nice sense of accomplishment. Now my drifts were lasting for anywhere between 3 – 5 seconds. I still spun out. I still crashed, both head on and sideways. With the extra momentum crashes could now involve multiple walls. But I could maintain an arc. However small it was. It was a nice feeling. I even began to complete goals on actual courses.

The courses have time limits adding pressure to the achievements that the over world doesn’t have. All the scores go to a world leader board as well. However, that just makes the sense of accomplishment that much greater. Each course has 5 goals. The true joy comes from nailing 2, 3 of those at once. Getting all 5 is a source of much excitement.

6 – 8 second drifts became normal. The spin outs and crashes were much reduced (for me at least). Arcs just kept on going and going. I could hold on for longer, even keeping a single arc around multiple corners. It wouldn’t be long now.

More of the challenges were attained. The over world was finished. And then it happened. An opening arc held, and held sliding ever further out. I wasn’t even cognizant of the time; I was just enjoying the game. Then the trophy flashed up. 10 seconds. Even longer in fact. I held it as long as I could. And then I started a new drift.

Absolute Drift_20170213221304

Absolute Drifts drifting holds it together. In fact it manages more than that. It operates as every game mechanic should. It’s easy to understand but it’s difficult to master. The controls are easy to pick up, but combining them to allow high level techniques requires effort and practice. The process of mastering them is one of great satisfaction.

What I’ve Been Playing This Week

Bloodborne: I can stop whenever I want. I just don’t want to is all.

Nier: Automata: I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused by a game. As in, when it’s good it’s very good. When it’s bad it’s the very definition of boredom. I’m getting near to ending C, and it’s been good. But endings A and B, the side quests for the most part had good endings, but the game play was incredibly boring. For all the innovation with the story and it’s presentation, the game play often boiled down to go to place and talk to guy, then go to a place to talk to someone else and then go back to talk to the other guy again. If not that, go to place to kill some things and collect stuff off the floor type of side quests. And I’m not sure I can forget all that drudgery when it comes to the good stuff. And there’s crafting and gathering parts for weapon upgrades and that always annoys me. The perspective changes in game play can be good, but I feel this game overplays this and goes to the well once too often. The combats enjoyable, but unlike Bloodborne I have no urge to master it, just to get through it now.

In fact the good stuff can be so good it just makes the side quest design look even worse than it is. The side quests in some cases have genuinely great dialogue and story content, but they are wrapped in boring game play. And some of the story has been utterly great.

But like I said, there’s some ways to go so I’ll hold off before giving a full opinion. Still, I’m very conflicted about the whole thing. That full opinion will be a long time coming.

Absolute Drift Zen Edition (AKA Initial D, Minimalist edition): I wanted to write about this game this week, but I can’t figure out how to frame the writing. But it’s good. Well I like it. Your mileage will entirely depend on your fondness for single mechanic games and challenges. Absolute Drift is a triumph of minimalism. Your only aim is to drift and everything else damned. But mastering that mechanic is a wonderful feeling, and arcing a nonstop 10 second drift, ah man, it’s beautiful. There is an over world filled with challenges which is both a fun place to hone skills and a great place to chill out.

Oxenfree: This has been on the back log for a while. I fired it up on Wednesday, and I had a lot of fun. The dialogue system really stands out. It actually feels realistic, with conversations including interruptions and if you miss a prompt, the chance to make a comment vanishes. That’s great. I think I’m nearing the end of the story, but putting this off for so long has been a bit of a mistake. The characters are good, the visuals work and the soundtracks pretty great. Good stuff all around.

What I’m Looking to Play:

The Last Guardian: This is on my pile of games to play. In fact it’s right in front of the PS4. Unfortunately, it was blighted by the fact it isn’t Bloodborne. Which to be fair, isn’t its fault, but this is a curse many games are blighted with. Seriously though, Miyazaki, why is Bloodborne so good? I’ve had to stop comparing other video games to it. They just can’t keep up.

Gravity Rush 2: I had a lot of fun with the first one, so why I haven’t fired this up sooner is a bit of a mystery. I’ll try and get round to it some time.

And last, but not to be the least, some gifs I’ve made this week:

First time I’ve ever been perfect on the Ebrietas head charge. Good times.

What Remains of Edith Finch and its many stories

What Remains of Edith Finch is a video game. That much I am sure of. I am also sure that What Remains of Edith Finch is a very good, maybe even great video game.

The story follows Edith Finch as she explores her ancestor’s house, and figures out what happened to each of the Finch’s through the stories they have left behind (walking simulator style). The hook here is all the stories are playable levels, and there really is incredible variety in both the stories told, and the game play featured within them. What I’m going to do here is go through three of my favourite stories, and talk about what I like so much about them and explore them both in terms of the mechanics used and the feeling they evoke. I do recommend playing through all the stories though, there’s something unique and brilliant in all of them. Obviously there will the spoilers in this piece. What I will not be doing however is talking about my favourite level. Mainly because Super Bunnyhop did a better job than I ever could.

I’ve noticed something said a few times about What Remains of Edith Finch. There seems to be a split in regards to the quality of the writing and whether it qualifies as great literature.  Rather than frame the debate like that, given that qualifying anything great is subjective anyway I’ll try to focus on what I feel What Remains of Edith Finch does really well. Whilst I do think What Remains of Edith Finch has great writing, what I would argue is that the many stories that make up Edith Finch all have within them themes and ideas that are very relatable. It further builds on this by exploring those themes with what I feel are really cool game mechanics and controller gimmicks.

The Cannery level that Super Bunnyhop describes is a perfect example. Everyone has had a dull job at some point in their life, and the Cannery perfectly captures that feeling of dreaming of a more fun time. Combine that with the player controlling both the guillotine and Lewis day-dream and it all comes together to create a wonderful level. With that said, let’s get to some of the other stories.

Molly’s Story

Molly’s story begins with the simple premise of a child being sent to bed without dinner. From there, the feeling of hunger takes us on a fantastical journey. What I like about this is how the story is told. If you’ve ever heard a child tell a story, they generally jump from point to point without much in the way of transitions. There’s no real logical progression from being an owl to a shark, and we as adults can see that. But with a child’s whimsy, that’s the sort of thing that happens, and explanations be damned. I feel Molly’s tale captures this sense very well. Also, there are not many games where you control a cat, an owl, a shark and a kraken. In sequence even. And to have them all control well is also an achievement that needs to be noted.

Gus’s Story

Everyone has been in a situation or place where they’d rather not be. Along with the slice of impotent rage that goes with it. And I’m guessing that the majority of us, for the sake of others just took the hit, and got through the event. But there’s the little part of us that would like to create a ruckus, just for the catharsis. And we have Gus’s story. Here we do get to create the ruckus. The sight of the kite dragging words and furniture across the sky is both fantastical and a release. Thanks to video games and their capacity for fantasy, we get to indulge that selfish urge of destruction. Which is nice, because doing it in real like does make you feel like a dick.

Calvin’s Story

At the beginning of this story, Calvin is informed by his brother Sam that doing the loop is impossible.  There is something about being told something is impossible. The sudden urge to say that no, it is possible and then the follow through, proving that it can be done. Seeing how far one can push oneself, to see the boundaries collapse and fall. Often there’s falls along the way, false dawns and near misses. I feel the way What Remains of Edith Finch tells this story with the swing is very well done. The build up of each arc, the build up of speed that convinces you this is the one before Calvin loses momentum and has to regain it. The sound of each arc and the rope swing creaking under each revolution just adds to the build up. And then finally after all the build up comes the release, that flying into the firmament.

And that release in and of itself is something worth talking about. It’s an incredible sense of freedom, and presumably something that everyone has dreamed of at some point in their lives. It would be nice to take off, and just for some time, leave this world behind, to feel the wind on one’s face high above clouds. Whether that is an uncomfortable social situation, or an unhappy time that feeling of just flying away seems so nice. Just hopefully not into an ocean though. Poor Calvin.

For those keeping score here so far we have controlled a cat, an owl, a shark, a kraken, a kite and a swing. That is not counting the rest of the game. I feel necessary in saying this just to illustrate the depth and breadth of imagination in this game. Like I said before, all the stories have something to them, and are worth experiencing. And if you want to wait for a sale before you try it, that’s cool but I would at least recommend a play through at some point. I’m sure you will find that you enjoy, and something that you can relate to.