Shovel Knight : Specter of Torment

Date Completed : March 6th, 2017

Nintendo Switch launch day happened to be my day off and the local Fred Meyer is often overlooked by console hunters on launch day.  I wanted one really badly but my wife suggested I call and ask if they had any in stock.  The sales guy coyly said they did have a few left in stock and after that I pretty much had to get one.  It turned out that Fred Meyer had a giant pile of about 30 consoles and we had our pick.  I had taken my daughter with me and I let her pick the color.  I got the console home but I hadn’t purchased any games so it was a pretty expensive paper weight.  I poked around the eshop looking for a cheap game but the only cheap title I could find was Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment for about $10.  It turned out to be a great purchase!  Specter Knight has a really satisfying ‘dash slash’ ability that I found particularly enjoyable to use.  I had a lot of fun with this game and I’d consider looking into other Shovel Knight games in the future.

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 8/10
  • Length:  ~5 hours
  • System: Nintendo Switch
  • Genre: Action / Adventure, Platform

 

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Final Fantasy Explorers

Date Completed: February 28th, 2017

Holy dull game Batman!  This game was unbelievably boring.  It’s almost not even a game.  It was really more of a tech demo than an actual game.  The game consists of exploring a continent by completing a series of missions.  Once you have completed a mission you are automatically warped back to the single town that is available in the game where you can select a new mission that let you explore further away areas.  There is no real story to follow that was discernible,  Something about crystals.  Square-Enix offered a collector’s edition of the game when they released it and I am SUPER glad I didn’t sink any money into it.  They’ve offered collector’s editions of several games now that turned out to be total duds.  I think this game could be turned into something interesting with more development effort but this release was barely a real game.

  • Is it fun: No
  • Score: 3/10
  • Length:  ~20 hours
  • System: Nintendo 3DS
  • Genre: RPG

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

Date Completed: February 19, 2017

I had this one sitting on the shelf for a long, long time.  I really enjoyed ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ and I was still hoping the Wii U would catch on when this game was announced so I was excited.  It too me a long time to get around to it and I ended up disappointed.  The level design didn’t really click with me like the previous game.  It’s not a bad game but it’s not great.  I was ready to move on when I was done.

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 6/10
  • Length:  ~12 hours
  • System: Nintendo Wii U
  • Genre: Action / Platform

Never Alone

Date Completed: February 7th, 2017

According to my current count I’m about 11 games and 10 months behind in my blogging. After some self reflection I’ve decided that the biggest issue preventing me from being more timely with producing these little blurbs is that I feel like I should try and do a good job.  Unfortunately this has resulted in dedicating additional time that I do not have hunting down screenshots, collecting my thoughts, reading and re-reading what I’ve written to see if it makes sense and eventually giving up and publishing when I realize I have no talent for writing. Well, no more of that! I’m going to change my format up to be shorter and try and get these things out within a few days of finishing the game.

Never Alone was on my radar before it was made one of the free games of the month on PlayStation Plus. I would have paid actual money for the game but once again Sony proved to me that only chumps pay for games anymore. Wait long enough and sooner or later you’ll get every game for free.

I installed the game on my PS4 but I didn’t get around to playing it until February this year when the city was covered in ice and snow and the entire family got sick. My wife had both bronchitis and pneumonia at the same time and all three kids cycled through various infections and treatments of antibiotics. I stayed home from work to help out but between feedings everyone mostly slept so I had some time to sneak away and get some gaming done.

Never Alone is based on Native Alaskan folklore and follows a young girl and her Arctic fox companion as they attempt to save her village. The game involves you solving simple ‘puzzles’ by switching between controlling the girl and the fox. The ‘puzzles’ are easily solved and don’t require any serious thought. There is really very little about the gameplay that is particularly interesting. Sometimes you run from a Polar Bear, sometimes you jump over a pit. The in-game physics are frustrating and the game isn’t particularly fun to play.

Surprisingly that doesn’t ruin the game. The characters in the game have a certain charm to them that transcends crappy game play. The story was interesting enough to keep me playing and the game includes ‘Cultural Insights’ that discuss the Native Alaskan people (and that you get trophies for watching).  The game is short enough that I didn’t get too frustrated with the game play.  Overall I’d say the experience was worth it!

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 5/10
  • Length:  ~3 hours
  • System: Playstation 4
  • Genre: Action / Adventure, Platform

Pokémon Yellow

pokemon_yellow_cover_art_by_comunello76-d4xfrr5Date Completed: December 28th, 2016

One day one of my college roommates said unto me “Mike, you should try playing Pokemon.  You may think it’s just a game for kids, however I think you will be surprised to find that is is a surprisingly good RPG.”  I trusted my roommate’s opinion so went off to the store to purchase a copy.  The nearest used video game story was a place by the name of ‘Funcoland’ (Since purchased by GameStop) however due to several bad experiences there we usually pronounced the name without the first ‘n’.  My roommate owned Pokemon Blue so I decided to purchase Pokemon Yellow.  After buying the game we went to the adjacent store and found Pokemon Yellow on sale BRAND NEW for 10$ cheaper.  So I bought Pokemon Yellow again and returned the first copy.

 

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Pro Tip : Never type ‘Misty Cosplay’ into Google.

I was surprised to find that Pokemon was a surprisingly good RPG and I played the crap out of that little cartridge.  With my roommate’s help I managed to catch the first 150 Pokemon ( I didn’t know about the Mew glitch so I sadly never caught 151 ).  I really got into Pokemon after that.  I bought Pokemon Gold when it came out, and we had copies of Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Snap in the apartment.

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Morbid much?

I don’t own my original cartridge anymore so when Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow came out for the 3DS virtual console I jumped at the opportunity to take a walk down memory lane.

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Sometimes it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad…

Something I learned about the past is that you can never go back.  Pokemon Yellow has not aged well.  Lots of frustrating mechanics have been ironed out in the many, many games released since generation I.  I forced myself to play all the way through to the end, although I ended up taking many breaks.

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I remember these guys…

I had taken my kids to one of the Pokemon card events at Toys R Us and overheard a portly nerd in the line in front of my discussing the recently released Pokemon virtual console games.  “Of course I bought all three of them!” he explained to another portly nerd.  I’m happy to say I’m not that guy anymore.  I enjoyed the nostalgia but I’m only going to stick with just this one game.

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Charizard FTW!

 

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 5/10
  • Length:  ~20 hours
  • System: Nintendo 3DS
  • Genre: RPG

Firewatch

firewatch-game-cover-pc-2016Date Completed: February 4th, 2017

Firewatch is more of an experience than a game.  Its similar to the game ‘Journey’ where it tells a story, and any spoilers to that story could potentially ruin it.  I’m going to stay away from spoilers, and instead focus on all of the things I did wrong while playing Firewatch.

Firewatch tells the story of a dude who watches for fires in Colorado wilderness.  When I started Firewatch I wasn’t sure what kind of game it was going to be.  Was it silly?  Was it scary?  Something else?  I didn’t know what to do or what kinds of interactions with the game world would be allowed so I tried stuff.  The first thing I did was pick up the bottle of dish soap from my watch tower and go for a hike.  Once I got out into the wilderness I felt bad about littering so I ended up carrying that bottle of dish soap around for an entire day.  This was super inconvenient because I had to set the soap down every time I wanted to consult my map ( which required both hands to be free ).

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My soap and I enjoying the sunset.

The other thing that really pissed me off about this game was the sound the electric generator made.  When the game started up the first thing I noticed was the constant grinding sound of an electric generator.  I found the generator outside my watch tower and tried to shut it off but this wasn’t allowed.  Sometimes the generator would power down and I’d have a few precious minutes of silence but it would always start up again.  For some dumb reason the generator sound followed me through the entire park.  I’d be miles away from my watch tower and I could still hear it!  I began to wonder if it was a clue to the plot – maybe my character was in a hospital room hooked up to some machine and the whole game was a hallucination of some kind?  Maybe it was a bug in the game?  Either way it was super irritating.  You know what the worst part was?  After I turned the game off for the night I could still hear the noise!!!  This was the moment I began to suspect something was amiss…

Yeah…so it turns out that the kids had shoved a pencil into the pencil sharpener on the windowsill behind me.  It’s about at ear-level when I am sitting down and I was wearing headphones while playing and couldn’t tell it wasn’t part of the game.  It would run for a few minutes before shutting down on it’s own and eventually restarting.  Darn kids.

I would have played the game straight through except after 11PM I figured I should go to bed or I’d be in a mood the next day.  Overall a great game although the kind you only get to play once.  After experiencing the story there isn’t any reason to visit this game again.  Except maybe to find those turtles.

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 7/10
  • Length:  3-4 hours
  • System: Playstation 4
  • Genre: First Person / Thriller

Dragon Age : Inquisition

91iutl4hdvl-_ac_sl1500_Date Completed : February 3, 2017

Two years ago – about six months after we moved into our new house – I participated in the “It only happens twice a year gift exchange event” with my college roommates and the one random guy who keeps showing up to our holiday parties.  The rules of the gift exchange are simple.  We all get the same gift, hand it to another participant and continue redistributing gifts until each participant ends up with exactly one.  When it first began we usually purchase each other the same video game such as ‘The Orange Box’, ‘Command and Conquer : Generals’ or ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’.  Since kids and budgets and new game consoles have come along this strategy no longer works so today have a policy of exchanging Amazon.com gift cards.  In late 2014 I still hadn’t purchased any games for my PS4 so I spent my entire gift card on Dragon Age : Inquisition.  I didn’t know anything about the Dragon Age series other than the fact that people seem to like it and it has the word Dragon in the title.  Dragons sounded cool, and I wasn’t aware of anything else coming out for the PS4 any time soon.

My daughter was about 5 months old when I started the game.  To celebrate my newborn child I created a lady elf warrior and named her after my daughter.  I played through the first area of the game but I found the tutorial to be lacking and I never understood what was going on.  I put the game down for a few weeks and when I came back I had forgotten what little I knew.  It’s hard to find the time to play a game with a newborn in the house and it’s hard to feel motivated to do so when you keep forgetting how the game is played.  My enthusiasm for the game suffered and after a few price drops I experienced buyer’s remorse.

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One big giant sand box.

Every once in awhile I picked up the game again and made some progress.  The game consists of several large (and I mean LARGE) areas that you can explore that each have dozens of missions to be completed.  I’d start the game up, run a few missions and then take a few weeks off.  The game is so vast that I usually didn’t feel like I was making any positive progress towards the eventual ending.  Running quests was ‘OK’ but often it just felt like busy work.  Towards the end of the game I was surprised to find that my views on this had changed.  I actually liked completing all of the stupid little missions, and exploring all of the maps.

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On a mission to kill the saddest bear ever. 😦

The game is full of many memorable moments and after I recalled that the PS4 has a share button I started posting a few of them to my Twitter feed.  Once such moment occurred when I was taking a stroll on a beach and happened upon a giant punching a Dragon IN THE FACE.

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Uh…leave me out of this.

It was clear to me early on that at least some the characters in this game had been in previous games in the series.  The back of the game case said ‘Meet Legends’ but I wasn’t sure who was supposed to be a legend or not.  I didn’t know who any of these schmucks were!  You can recruit nine different playable companions to your cause, most of whom seemed pretty cool.  It also turns out that you can choose to romance one of your companions (or some of the NPC characters).  There is even a trophy for committing to a long term relationship.  Since I wanted the trophy I found myself in the somewhat uncomfortable position of choosing a romantic partner for a woman named after my daughter.  I didn’t like it but eventually I settled on commander Cullen, one of the NPC advisors.  He seemed like the most honorable choice that didn’t have a porn-star beard.

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STAY AWAY FROM MY DAUGHTER!!!

After I started really getting into the game and beginning my final push towards completing it I became obsessed with doing things the ‘right’ way.  Events can unfold different depending on how you handle some of the situations that come up in the game.  Your companions may either grow to like or dislike you depending on how you converse with them.  Whenever a speech bubble popped up I’d always pause the game and look up the consequences of the various answers on the web before continuing.  My goal was to not miss out on anything in the game (especially those trophies) but this ended up partially ruining the experience for me.  I shouldn’t have worried about making the right choices.  Instead I should have owned the choices that I made and lived with the consequences.  It would have been more realistic and more fun.

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Advisors gotta advise…

I usually didn’t let the kids watch when I played this game, unless I knew nothing horrible was going to happen (This game is rated M).  My daughter (who is now 2) was a big fan since the main character was named after her.  She’d walk in while I was playing, point and say “That’s me!!”.  Now that I’ve finished with the game she’s seemed pretty disappointed to find me playing other things on my Playstation.

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Wouldn’t be an RPG without some questionable outfits…

Since I didn’t really know what was going on most of the game I avoided spending skill points, crafting weapons/armor or choosing a specialization until I felt like I absolutely had to.  My inventory was always full of items that I wasn’t sure if I should hold on to or not.  Eventually I’d stored up about 18 unused skill points and spent them all at once.  Suddenly I had TOO MANY skills and it took some trial and error to find a set of abilities that I liked.  My favorite was the ‘Charging Bull’ ability that had my warrior dashing into danger like the late Mr. Jenkins of World of Warcraft fame.

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Leeeroooooy……

My first impression of Dragon Age was poor but after I understood enough about the game to play it intelligently I started to enjoy it more.  It’s a solid game but I can’t recommend it to everyone because there is a time investment required to acquaint the player with how the game is played.  This isn’t a pick-it-up-and-go title, it’s a read-the-strategy-guide-first kind of game.  I don’t plan on holding on to my copy, or playing any other games in the series.  If another Dragon Age game comes out some day I may look into it but for now I’m (finally) done.

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 8/10
  • Length:  ~110 hours
  • System: Playstation 4
  • Genre: Action / RPG