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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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

LittleBigPlanet 3

915sTmK8U1L._SL1500_Date Completed: February 21, 2016

The original LittleBigPlanet game wouldn’t have normally been something on my radar but a colleague of mine (Lets call him MDL for short) became a very big fan and even earned one of the Rare Prize Crown accessories as a level design contest reward.  I had a handful of ideas for levels but children started flying out of my wife at an alarming rate and I suddenly didn’t have the time to put into level design that I needed to accomplish anything of note.  Even so the game had a lot of charm and I discovered that I had become a LittleBigPlanet fan.  Unfortunately none of the games have been able to recapture the magic of that original title.  LittleBigPlanet 3 feels like they’ve given up trying.

The single player experience is OK but extremely short.  Rather than the linear progression of previous games the game is broken up into hub worlds, each of which involves you collecting one of the new characters in the game – Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop.  Each of the new characters can only be used in designated areas which I found disappointing.

In general the world ‘disappointing’ would sum up my entire experience with this game.  I didn’t care for the story.  I didn’t  care for the new NPC characters introduced.  I didn’t like the new ‘hub world’ concept, or the addition of quests.  I could continue listing things I didn’t like about the game but I’ll just say there was a lot to not like.

Not that the game is all bad.  I liked the new playable characters and I wished that I could have used them more.  The level design is very good and they are very fun to play.  My kids got to know SackBoy very well playing Run Sackboy Run and they loved seeing more of him in this game.

It many ways it feels as if the developers packed as many features into the game as they could, but decided not to make levels for it.  Instead they decided to rely on the community to create, share and play user generated content.  This may work for some of the audience of this game, however that’s not how I play.  I want to play a game with a beginning, a middle and an end.  I’m not really into playing games just for the sake of playing, I want a storyline and a goal.

After beating it I decided to sell the game.  They’re trying to push the DLC pretty hard for this game so I assume sooner or later LBP3 will be free for Playstation Plus subscribers.  I might play it again someday, but then again I might not.  I liked the game enough to play it but in the end it failed to capture the magic I was looking for.

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 6/10
Length:  ~5 hours
System: Playstation 4
Genre: Platformer

Gunman Clive 2

Date Completed : September 1, 2015

I heard that Gunman Clive 2 was out and having enjoyed the original, and being of a mind to support an independent developer I went ahead and bought it.

The game is basically exactly like the first but with new levels, a handful of new colors, and some really creative levels.  Some of the scenes (especially in the land of the dinosaurs) had me all smiles.  The stages are short, but fun and challenging.  It reminds me a lot of a NES era game  (but with better play control).

The game costs only 3 dollars on the Nintendo eShop, so if you’re a 3DS owner you really have no excuse.

.Pros

  • More Gunman Clive

Cons

  • Not very long.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 7/10
Length:  2 hours
System: 3DS (eShop)
Genre: Platform / Shooter

Tearaway

Tearaway_boxartDate Completed : November 22nd, 2014

When I was eight years old a kid in my third grade class gained some notoriety for his ability to fold Origami balloons.  He refused to teach me how on the grounds that “Origami is a secret”.  It must be one of the worst kept secrets of all time – a quick trip to the Library at recess was enough to get the instructions for balloons as well as myriads of other interesting things.  I came back to class triumphantly and demonstrated that I too now knew the secret.  His thunder was stolen and I reigned as the new coolest 8 year old.  At least that’s how I like to remember it.

Tearaway isn’t a game about Origami but it does involve a lot of folding paper.  Everything in the game from blades of grass to enemies to waves in the ocean has been modeled with virtual paper.  Various objects in the game can be further enhanced by using an in-game editor to create new paper craft objects of your own.  For example, when you enter the snowy area you create the snowflakes which are seen blowing in the wind.  You can also use the Camera at various points to take pictures of real-world objects that will be used in the game world.

Elk

An Elk that has been textured with a photograph of my wife’s beads.

The game itself follows the adventures of ‘Iota’, a messenger who happens to be made of paper.  Iota is on a quest to deliver the message to mythical creature called a ‘You’ (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil what a ‘You’ is.  You‘ll have to play the game to find out!).  Primarily your goal is to navigate your way through the paper craft world and help Iota deliver the message.

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That’s not a bow on my head, it’s a butterfly!

Playing Tearaway gives one the impression that it was a requirement that every piece of the Vita’s hardware was used in some way.  The most innovative use of the Vita’s hardware is how the rear-touch panel is used.  In set locations in the game world you can use the back of the Vita to shove your finger into the game world and interact with the environment (If you look closely at the box art you’ll see a finger holding up Iota).  It was quite a surprise for me the first time that happened.

It is impossible to lose the game.  If you fall off the level or are defeated by an enemy Iota quickly re-spawns at the previous checkpoint.  The game is already very easy, and without the threat of death it’s just a matter of taking the time to walk through the levels. It has been pointed out to me that Journey was similar in that respect, and now that I think of it Tearaway has a lot of similarities to Journey without having quite the emotional impact that Journey has.

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One of the many friends you make on your adventure.

My kids enjoyed watching me play Tearaway for short periods but the game wasn’t enough to hold their interest for long. They were mostly interested in ‘helping’ me create paper craft objects with the touch screen, or photo bombing pictures when the cameras were active.

If you look closely you might see my face and the top of my son’s head in the background.

One cool feature is that after taking a photo of certain objects in the game printable plans become available on https://tearaway.me. After finishing the game I printed off two black and white copies of the Iota plan for my boys to color in. I assisted in the Final assembly as it is a bit too complicated for a 5-year-old.

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Papercraft Iota

My final thoughts – I thought the game was too easy. The story was good, but I feel it could have been told in a more emotionally impactful way. The game relies too much on gimmicky interactions (such as a finger through the back panel) and not enough on core game mechanics. The paper craft visual ascetic is unique and interesting. The ability to create custom objects and insert pictures into the game makes each play through the game unique to an individual. There is a lot to like, and a lot that falls a bit shy of greatness. I would play a sequel (which I understand has been announced for the PS4) but I doubt I will play through this title again.

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I am the sunshine, the only sunshine…

PS – Somewhat unexpectedly, it turns out the day that I beat Tearaway was it’s Birthday!

Pros

  • Unique visual ascetics.
  • Makes full use of all the features of the Vita.
  • Bonus ‘Real World’ content unlocks as you play at https://tearaway.me

Cons

  • Not very challenging
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 6/10
Length:  ~3 hours
System: Playstation Vita
Genre: Platform / Exploration

LittleBigPlanet PS VITA

LittleBigPlanet_Vita_BoxartDate Completed : October 11th, 2014

I have been a fan of LittleBigPlanet since the original arrived in 2008. I didn’t have kids at the time so I was able to play the game enough to achieve one of my few Platinum trophies. LittleBigPlanet 2 was a similarly excellent game which my boys enjoyed watching but the LittleBigPlanet PSP game was severely lacking.  I was also concerned for the title because LittleBigPlanet Karting was clearly designed to push the DLC on customers, which was most unwelcome.  I didn’t have high hopes for LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, but the Playstation Vita doesn’t have a lot of choice when it comes to games so I popped it on my Amazon Wish List anyway.

My first impression of the game was that I believed it had crashed.  After launching the title I was in the familiar ‘Pod’ area that lets you select the world and map you want to plan on and none of the buttons worked.  It turns out that you have to TOUCH the world you want to play using the touch screen and traditional controls are completely useless.  I can think of no reason for this design decision except that they wanted the game to function as a tech demo of the Vita’s new capabilities.

Once you get into the game it plays almost exactly like LittleBigPlanet 2, with some Vita specific goodness thrown in.  Objects can now be touchable using either the touch screen, or the touchpad on the back of the Vita.  There are also levels that use the gyroscopes and you must tilt the Vita to move.  None of these additions feel particularly necessary but they did give my kids a chance to interact with the game while I played it.  If my kids were watching me play I’d put them in charge of the touch screen and they would move the objects around for me.

The game itself was very short (only about 6 story mode levels I think) but there were a lot more challenge levels than I expected.  Some of the challenge levels were individual, but quite a few allowed for multiple players (either with hot seat or networked) and some allowed for multiple players at the same time on the same Vita, such as an air hockey mini-game.  My boys and I enjoyed playing that one against each other a lot.

LittleBigPlanet is only partly about the packaged game play though, if you aren’t creating levels you aren’t really playing the game.  Sadly I really don’t have the time to engage in the level design.  I spent many hours creating levels in the first LBP but since my kids were born I really don’t have the time, or the mental energy to spend too much time creating or playing community levels.  That said, the interface looks much improved for level creators.  If I ever get the itch to create a level again I’ll probably try and implement it in this version of the game.

I started playing the game a long, long, long but I kept putting it down and forgetting about it.  The 3DS has had several fantastic titles such as Bravely Default and A Link Between Worlds that took precedence and combined with tendonitis, a new born and moving to a new home LittleBigPlanet was never a priority.  Why not?  While technically the game is as good if not better than previous LittleBigPlanet games it somehow lacks the charm of the original game.  The music wasn’t as memorable, the characters weren’t as lovable, and the story mode is short.  It seems that they are hoping for fans to get more involved in the community levels, and creation aspect of the game which I simply do not have the desire for at this time.

I don’t want to sound too complain-ey though.  It’s a great little game, and it was fun to play, even if it didn’t quite manage to re-kindle my feelings of love for the original title.  If you’re the type who is likely to get involved in creating and playing community levels, or if you’re just another sad Vita owner looking for something to play, this game is for you.

Pros

  • New Touch Controls
  • Touch Screen based Level Designer

Cons

  • Short Story Mode
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length:  ~6 hours
System: Playstation Vita
Genre: Puzzle / Platformer