A Week in Gaming 2nd Quest #15+16: 4/10 – 4/16 & 4/17 – 4/23

Whoa, holy crap I have a blog. A blog I’ve been slacking on lately due to a combination of things. You can blame me for my Borderlands addiction, as I’ve put 64 hours into the game in the past 11 days, but when I’m not running through Pandora with my friends I’ve either been focusing on homework or streaming! My semester ends on March 6th for three of my four classes, the fourth the week after that, and as such they’re really packing the homework and projects in. I had to make a written schedule and checklist for all of my assignments just to make sure I wasn’t overwhelmed. This brought with it a question: Why the heck do so many classes throw in one gratuitous end-of-semester paper to write? It’d be fine to finish up a semester with doing one paper for a class, but when all of them do it? That becomes overwhelming.

Still, I managed to beat six games and complete three during the last two weeks. 14 days, 9 games, 3 of which are part of my Borderlands addiction? I’d call that good. Four on Week 15, five on Week 16, with at least something to say about all of them:

Week 15: 4/10 – 4/16

Tidalis (PC)

I’ve been let down a lot by puzzle games I have on Steam. Cogs, Droplitz, Osmos, they all serve to be overly frustrating or too smart for themselves and thus leech what fun they have away. This isn’t to say that they’re bad games necessarily, but some design choices were frustrating. Cogs? The soundboard puzzles. Droplitz? The game itself. Osmos? Those. Orbit-Based. Stages. You can see why I was nervous about Tidalis, right?

I was surprised to find a campaign  in Tidalis. In-between every two or three stages there were plot vignettes, a handful of odd characters, and a reason as to why you played so many different stages in the game. With that was a fun core mechanic: Various colored pieces fall ala Tetris and you eliminate them by way of activating any one to start a chain reaction of light beams. The light will travel from the one you activate and if there’s a same-colored piece within three blocks of where it points to, the light will continue. It’s like Tetris in that pieces fall, but instead of the Russian classic, your goal is to change the direction of the colored block so that you create one long chain and/or set up combos by preparing more than one. It’s easier to understand if you see it, and I liked the concept.

What I didn’t like came down to two things: All of the gimmicks, and the sheer length of the campaign. Tidalis has more stage gimmicks than you can hit with a bus. Ice, wood, chained-up blocks, falling stone eaters, water and bubbles, lava, stone, chain meshes… every one of them with some sort of little quirk that you have to work around in playing the stages. The worst by far were the gravity-distorting ones. Cool on paper in that you had to adapt to a new variation in the core mechanic to make combos, but honestly? Those stages sucked. It was frustrating and confusing trying to trace out paths in the stages centered around the fans, gravity, and the four-way pipes. Then they’d get worse by throwing other gimmicks into that, causing pain and chaos. I skipped a good 35~45% of the stages (thankfully) to get to a beaten game, but hey, it counted. Good game in concept, but all of the gimmicks and the sheer length of the campaign kinda take away from the fun… a lot.

Tetris Attack (GB)

On the other hand, this was a splendid puzzle game. A port of the SNES game by the same name, Tetris Attack GB was a surprisingly good port. I found it surprising that they were able to pack so much into a single Game Boy cartridge while keeping true to the original. The game mechanic itself was rather fun, though difficult at times, but that came down to my own personal skill. One of the half-dozen modes is a story mode wherein you have to defeat other characters by taking their hit points to zero. The way to do that? Either connecting three or more “!” blocks, or by getting combos. The former don’t show up much, the latter are something I’m terrible at doing. I managed to get through Easy and Normal without too much difficulty, but there’s a surprising lot left to do in this little Game Boy port. Would I recommend it? Only if there’s no way you can ever get access to the SNES version. This is good, but inferior.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (PSP, originally TurboGrafx-16)

I know I’d get some flak for this, but I almost never receive comments so that worry is out the window. For me, Rondo of Blood was a disappointment. Yes, I was tempered by an early childhood by Super Castlevania IV. Yes, I was spoiled into believing that the way Richter played in Symphony of the Night was analogous to how he played in Rondo of Blood. And yes, I despise the clunky, stiff and unfair experience that defines how you control Richter in this game, Trevor in Castlevania III, and Simon in practically every game he’s been in except for Super Castlevania IV.

I was irritatingly pessimistic while playing the port on the PSP collection, but for reasons I think are valid. For one, how could you innovate so well with the gameplay in Super Castlevania IV, then a few years later backtrack to your safe zone with characters that move like throwing shot puts? This ties in with the second character you can play as, Maria Renard. Fans of the game either love Maria or call her “easy mode” and denounce others who don’t play as Richter. Yet if people stood back from their masochistic safe zones of Grunty McLeadfoot and looked at how the game was designed in terms of stages, they’d realize that for all intent and purpose Rondo of Blood was designed for Maria. She’s a magical girl, a cutesy anime character, and her skills fit the stage design and some bosses to such an amazing degree that it makes Richter really look out-of-place. Take for instance one area in what I believe is Stage 3: a series of staircases just a bit too high to jump up with Richter, with giant steel balls that roll down them (some having Flea Men). You need to quickly jump on these steel balls while they fall, then jump up off them to make it to the next staircase. It is painful, tedious, irritating to get the timing, and just devoid of fun. Richter suffers here. Maria? Maria was made for this.

I definitely appreciate the merits the game has, though. It tried to bridge between “Classicvania” and “Metroidvania”, it managed to really show how good its system’s hardware was with all of the visual pageantry (right down to the anime cut scenes) and it contained within it a character whose play style would become paramount in building a blueprint for an entire sub-genre of games. Sliding, double jumping, control in mid-air, wide variety of attacks, all aspects we see in every Metroidvania in the series since then. So, to summarize: This is a great game, but it disappointed me. The design of the game all-but blatantly stated to me that it was designed for Maria and that playing as Richter makes this game tough as nails. Some fans of the game need to get over themselves with the “Maria = Easy Mode” mantra, since for people who don’t like a wrist-slitting challenge such as playing as Richter in this game? It makes a gem of a title fun. And bottom line, isn’t that what we’re playing it for?

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! (GBA)

I don’t think I have a game with as many odd characters in its title as this one. A comma, period, colon, dollar sign and an exclamation point. Damn. The game is just as odd too! My first experience into the whole set of Wario games (unless Super Mario Land 2 counts), and a ridiculously fun one at that. Essentially, this is a series of quick-time events thrown rapidly at you with an enormous diversity in objectives. It tests your reflexes, attentiveness, and makes you struggle to figure out what to do within a few seconds. I can’t say I raged at this game. Sure, there were times where I would have felt frustrated or cheated, but WarioWare, Inc moves so fast that I didn’t have time to rage. The second I would have started complaining, another game would have come and gone and I’d be even further in the negative.

Colorful, a huge amount of variety in its “microgames” , a likable if eclectic cast, with some dynamite music and plenty of throwbacks to classic games. This was easily worth the $7 I paid for it, and I enjoyed practically every second of it. I rarely have the desire to replay sections of a game unless necessary or a large amount of time has passed, but I found myself going back to 9-Volt’s set of microgames over and over. Fun, simple to pick up, and all the extra praise I’ve given it thus far shows that I advocate this game, aye?

Week #16: 4/17 – 4/23

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (XBLA)

Sega put a ton of their Xbox Live Arcade games on sale in the last week. I happened to have 470 points sitting around left over from a 1600 point gift from Sadrack for Banjo-Kazooie, so I snagged both this and Sonic & Knuckles for 320 points. I was actually tempted to get Phantasy Star II and Ecco the Dolphin instead, since the concept of Achievements seem to give me more motivation to play games. But, I talked with myself about it. “Dude, you’d need to replay 35 or more hours of Phantasy Star II just to get to where you are in your other file, and the game is only 200 Gamerscore. Dude, Ecco the Dolphin requires you to play through it fully three times in a row, save state abuse or no, to get two achievements. Be smart, stupid.”

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 may not be as well-loved as Sonic 2, but it is my favorite of the quartet. This comes mostly from nostalgia – it was my first – but it stands as a solid game. Level design is fair and well-paced, not filled with the painful nonsense of so many stages in Sonic 2. Music is glorious (Ice Cap Zone remixes forever for life), and the little additional abilities that Sonic gains with his elemental shields further expand on what is a good design model. Yes, the game is only half a game since it doesn’t feel complete until you snap it into Sonic & Knuckles and play the whole thing, but I love it. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Bonus Stages for Emeralds are actually a fair challenge yet fun, unlike the ball-busting terrible design of the Sonic 2 half-pipes. Seriously, it’s a cold day in hell when your average gamer can be Super Sonic in the second title. The Emeralds should be a challenge to get, not a nightmare. All in all, fun stuff. Get it. It’s a game where both “Sonic” and “good” are actually together.

Dynamite Headdy (Xbox 360, originally Genesis)

Just like Rondo of Blood, I’m sure I’d get flak for this too. I love/hate Dynamite Headdy. Treasure makes great games filled with character, and Dynamite Headdy oozes this. A unique aesthetic, interesting stages, and it has a fun gameplay mechanic with Headdy’s.. well, head. Like a prototype Rayman who would headbutt things constantly. See, I love it in concept and the way it looks in execution, but the game is too hard for its own good. WorldDude tells me that the Japanese version gave you continues, something that the American version had taken away from it for whatever reason. You can earn continues… but only if you manage to snag enough of the collectables that fly from each defeated boss, and that is a hard quota to reach. The game is long, and several stages will beat you down, piss on you, then beat you some more.

The shmup stages, especially the difficulty of the boss. The red/green-faced boss with the infuriating stage flipping and quick platforming. The final boss in its entirety. The fifth stage, complete with climbing the tower. Or that asshole of a Gatekeeper boss. It’s examples like this that I had a ton of trouble with and would be roadblocks to me had I not had the save feature on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection. What I played through should have been the game’s Hard Mode. Dynamite Headdy should have been easier, and kept the continues in. Instead, the difficulty is ridiculously high, and even has a harder mode! Woe be to the person who attempts it though, as if my research is correct, it is essentially one-hit kill mode. If you’re masochistic, look into Dynamite Headdy. Otherwise, you’re better off browsing other Treasure titles since Headdy isn’t as accessible or well-paced as other games by the developer.

Borderlands + Zombie Island of Dr. Ned + Secret Armory of General Knoxx (PC)

I wrote about Borderlands back in A Week in Gaming #36 and my thoughts haven’t changed too much. The game is repetitious yet fun, and I’m having a blast playing multiplayer as a Siren. Having friends around made the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned more of a good experience, and the lack of teleporters only waters down a fun experience with General Knoxx. I’m up to a level 46 Siren, with a(nother) forgotten Berserker sitting at level 21.  My drive to continually play this version of the game continues, since the online is free and I have better control over protecting and saving my progress on the PC. Plus, getting the game and all of the DLC for $7.50 is a huge motivational boost, considering that just buying one DLC for the Xbox 360 version costs 25% more at $10. Bottom line, if you like Diablo-styled loot systems with first-person shooters, this game is for you. I’ve put 64 hours into this version and I’m not nearly done yet.

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Sorry for the delay in posting folks! It might happen again where I’m in crunch time for the end of my semester, but once summer hits I’ll be consistently writing once more! Leave a comment if you’re so inclined, and have fun gaming. Until next time!

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