Pokemon Picross

Date Completed: July 28th, 2016

pokemon_picross_logo I’m getting super behind on my blog.  This is almost 6 months late!  I’m going to try and keep things short in the future so writing this thing doesn’t take longer than beating the games!

My wife had played some Picross games in the past and they looked fun but I had never tried one on my own before Pokemon Picross.  My wife had recently mentioned that she was in the mood to play a Picross game again and suddenly Pokemon Picross came out and it was free-to-play!  I immediately downloaded it for both of us.

Since the game is free-to-play you’re limited in what you can accomplish each day unless you pay to unlock everything.  If you don’t spend real money you have an energy bar that limits how many squares you can uncover.  Stages are also locked until you pay to unlock them with ‘Picrites’.  ‘Picrites’ can be earned in-game or purchased with real-world money.  I spent about 5 dollars to buy a pack of Picrites but after that I was strictly free-to-play.  I made playing party of my daily routine.  It made a perfect tea-timer. I spent a few minutes playing my daily training puzzle each morning while my tea was brewing and when I was done my tea was ready.

My wife didn’t end up putting too much time into this game.  She’s a big Picross fan but this game mixes things up by including Pokemon skills and stage missions which often require bringing a specific Pokemon or type of Pokemon along to win.  Hunting through lists of Pokemon to take on missions was a bit too much for my wife.  I think all she was looking for in a Picross game was something to sit down and play without having to worry about the meta game.

Overall it’s hard to not recommend this game as it is free.  It may not be what a traditional Picross player is looking for but if you’re that type of person who likes Picross and Pokemon it’s a no-brainer.

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 6/10
Length: I didn’t measure.
System: 3DS
Genre: Puzzle

 

Zelda Picross

tpprincessDate Completed: April 22nd, 2016

At long last Nintendo finally unveiled their new customer loyalty program and one of the first rewards made available was Twilight Princess Picross.  It costs 1000 platinum points which thanks to Miitomo are easy enough to collect, although it did take me several days of answering inane questions and changing my hat.

My wife is a Picross fan but hasn’t played much since Picross for the original DS.  I told her about the freely available Pokemon Picross but she doesn’t understand Pokemon and couldn’t get into it.  When this game became available I told her it was the Picross experience she’d been waiting for so I badgered her into playing Miitomo so she’d be able to get the 1000 points necessary.

For being free you get quite a bit of game.  There are 45 puzzles each of which can be played in either Picross or Mega Picross mode.  There is also something called Micross which is a giant mural where you in small bite-sized 10×10 squares.  After you finish all of the puzzles your accumulated time shows up on the home screen.  My wife and I have been competing for scores but I think she’s cheating because she’s winning at the moment.

Each puzzle took me 5-15 minutes so according to my calculations I’ve put about 15 hours into it.  Since each puzzle is so short it’s easy to play for a few minutes at a time.  I usually run a puzzle or two before bed.  Not bad for a free game!

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 9/10
Length:  15 hours
System: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Puzzle

Trine 2

Trine-2-Complete-Story-LogoDate Completed : June 23, 2015

Today I will tell you a tale.  A tale of a time, long ago when I saw the first screenshots of Trine, and the obvious beauty of the game encouraged me to purchase it.  It was clear to me that this game would offer a superior experience on a console but a series of circumstances lead me to purchase it for the PC.  What sort of circumstances you ask?  I became addicted to the price savings offered by the Humble Bundles, and in 2011 they offered the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle, which included Trine 1.  I tried playing Trine on the PC, and it was certainly beautiful but it pushed my laptop a bit too hard and it became uncomfortably hot and overheated my nether regions.  They keyboard controls were also as poor as I expected.  I was able to make it a few levels in but I never gave the game a fair chance.

The years rolled by and I didn’t give Trine another thought until one day I heard that Trine 2 had not only been released, but it was being made available FOR FREE to Playstation Plus subscribers.  FREE! (With paid subscription) is one of my favorite price points so I immediately downloaded and tried the game out.  Then I didn’t play it for three months.

Trine_2_2011_Oct_001_720p

My daughter was born in August 2014 and when up late, or early, or both with her I’d set her into the crook on my left arm and sometimes I’d play some Trine, but usually I’d watch Star Trek : TNG on Netflix because I didn’t have the mental energy to engage in a video game.  I’ll be honest too – I wasn’t enjoying Trine that much.  It is beautiful, challenging, interesting and unique but it is too slow.  It may be the Mario player in me, but I wanted to be able to run faster, jump higher, but Trine is a puzzle game first and an action game second.

The puzzles in Trine require either thought, or brute force.  It’s not like other games where there is one correct answer, there may be many possible ways to get up to the next ledge.  Some of them require skill, others require patience but all require you to stop running and start thinking.  Levels generally took me 20-40 minutes to complete and I was never sure if I could save mid-level.  I couldn’t find a save option – I assumed the game had an auto-save feature.  Sometimes after reloading I would start at a checkpoint and other times I had to start a level over.  It was slow going for me.  I played a few levels a month and I monitored the list of Trophies to gauge my progress but I never seemed to be any closer to finishing the game.Trine_2_Complete_Story_Sandworm_720p

Then Sony bequeathed unto PS4 owners a glorious update.  The ability to suspend a game in the middle of a level and resume later without losing any progress was added to the system, and the people rejoiced.  Without concern of losing my progress through a level I began to play Trine 2 in smaller, bite sized sessions.  With the mighty sword of suspend, and the shield of resume I was able to conquer my foe and Trine 2 lies dead in the graveyard of my blog.

Trine 2 isn’t especially graphic but I tried to limit my kids to only watching the puzzle portions of the game and kicked them out when I was involved in goblin hacking.  Sometimes I’d get through a puzzle only to be thrown into a battle and forget to kick the kids out but they never seemed overly traumatized (I’m pretty sure my 4-year-old’s night terrors were unrelated).  They seem to be able to grasp that it’s only a game and most of the action on my 24″ monitor is too small to make out much detail anyway.Trine2CompleteStory_Wyvern_Screenshot_02

I discovered accidentally that Trine 2 is one of the few PS4 titles to support 3D, and as the world’s only fan of 3D I took the opportunity to play in 3D as much as possible.  The game looks absolutely amazing-er in 3D, although since it is a 2D side scroller 3D mode doesn’t accomplish much other than emphasize the distance between the graphics layers.

Suspend mode was the feature that really made it possible for me to enjoy Trine 2.  I had tried playing using remote play from my Vita (which worked well) but Trine makes full use of the controller and the Vita’s emulation of the extra shoulder buttons is…not fantastic.  After I got into the game I had a lot of fun playing it and I’m considering going back to that overheating laptop to give Trine 1 another shot, especially since I have three kids now and I don’t need my nethers anymore.

Pros

  • Stunningly Beautiful Artwork.

Cons

  • Can be a bit slow going.

Is it fun: Yes

Score: 8/10
Length:  ~8 hours
System: Playstation 4
Genre: Action

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

 

Ico

Ico Box ArtDate Completed : December 8th, 2013

Ico is the second full game that I received for ‘free’ from PlayStation Plus that I’ve bothered to play all the way through (The other being Quantum Conundrum back in February).  I’d heard about Ico being one of the ‘Most overlooked PS2 titles’ back when it was originally available but I never got around to playing it (My PS2 primarily functioned as a Final Fantasy adapter for my TV set).  When the Ico / Shadow of the Colossus combo was announced I thought it might finally be my chance to try it out.  I borrowed the game disk from some friends but I never made it a priority and it was unused for months.  When Sony made the game free for PS Plus subscribers I returned the disk and finally decided this is getting ridiculous.  I should either play the game or give up on it.  A quick check at howlongtobeat.com indicated that the game was actually pretty short so there was nothing to lose.

The story is immediately interesting.  A young boy with horns (Ico) is locked away in a castle because that’s what’s done with horned boys, for some reason.  The boy manages to escape confinement and begins exploring the castle in search of a way out.  The castle is huge, but appears to be mostly empty.  After several minutes of exploration you encounter a young woman who is locked away in a cage, so naturally you try and help her escape as well.

Ico and Yorda

OK, I’ll help you escape too.

The young woman doesn’t talk, but the walk-through I used indicated her name is Yorda.  Since the goal is for both of you to escape most of the game play involves making the castle accessible to Yorda.  She doesn’t have the super-human jumping skills or casual disregard for safety that Ico has so you have to find ways to lower bridges, open doors, move blocks and make it possible to freely move about the environment.  Puzzles get very involved and at one point my wife remarked “I can see why you’d need a walk-through”

Periodically shadow monsters appear and attempt to kidnap Yorda.  If they succeed Ico is turned into a statue and you have to start over and the previous checkpoint (Which can be quite a ways in the past).  The only way to prevent the shadows from achieving their goal is by beating them into oblivion with a dull stick.  The shadows can’t do any damage to you but they can knock you down.  They aren’t particularly challenging to defeat and I didn’t have any trouble with them after I figured out which button to use to hit them (Square), and how to pull Yorda out of the shadow holes.  They are irritating, easy to defeat, and don’t seem to serve any useful purpose other than to break the monotony of exploration. (They do look really cool though).

With the exception of the periodic battles against the shadows, the game is a plain and simple exploration and puzzle game.  The castle has lots of interesting areas to explore.  The main problem with the game is the contrast.  Inside the castle is extremely dark, and outside is extremely bright.  I had to crank the brightness setting all the way up to see anything at all when I was inside and I had to crank the brightness way down whenever I went outside.  Several areas of the game were so dark that I missed clues on how to proceed and eventually I resorted to using a walk-through to proceed through the game.  The game supports 3D and I tried out that mode on my 3D monitor but the brightness problem was only exacerbated by the 3D glasses and I found it unplayable.

Inside the Castle

Inside the castle with the brightness set to default.

My kids were surprisingly interested in the game.  I thought it would be too boring for them, or that the shadow creatures would be too scary but they liked the whole concept of helping the girl to escape the castle.  I should note however that my older boy was a little upset I was carrying a stick around instead of a proper sword (Never mind that his toy sword is made of cardboard).  Eventually Ico does find a proper sword and my son was satisfied.

I can see why some people would think of it as a hidden gem but I am not one of those people.  It has a lot to like, but it also has a lot of problems that eliminate most of the joy from the experience.  I enjoyed the story and the exploration aspects but the rest of the game lacked the fine tuning and polish that could have made this game a truly enjoyable experience.

Pros

  • Big castle to explore.
  • Interesting story.

Cons

  • Extraordinarily poor contrast.
Is it fun: No
Score: 5/10
Length: 5 hours
System: PlayStation 3
Genre: Adventure / Puzzle / Platform

Pikmin 3

Date Completed: 8/17/2013

Pikmin3Boxart

After multiple delays Pikmin 3 was finally released 9 months after the Wii U’s launch. Launch window my butt!! While a bit disappointing, the delay did not come as a big surprise. I happened to play Pikmin 3 at the Wii U Experience event that I attended last year and it was quite obviously not close to being ready. They didn’t let me touch the Wii U Gamepad at all and instead handed me a Wii remote + Nun-chuck. While game delays are a fact of life this one was particularly frustrating due to the long software drought on the Wii U. Prior to purchasing Pikmin 3 I had never actually bought a boxed Wii U title (all of my games were Christmas presents last year).

Pikmin 3 follows the exploits of three intrepid explorers who are searching the universe for food to take back to their starving planet. After crash landing on planet PNF-404 Captain Charlie, Alph and Brittany encounter the Pikmin. Like most conquering warlords our Heroes quickly realize that Pikmin can be used for cheap slave labor. Pikmin mindlessly obey your every command and can be used to collect the various fruit products located all over the planet. They can also be militarized and be sent into battle against the Bulborbs and other indigenous creatures.

Bulborb.

A Bulborb Photographed with the in-game Camera.

When a Pikmin dies it lets out a heart wrenching gasp and its spirit lifts from its body and slowly floats away. My wife (who had never seen a Pikmin game before) was completely horrified. Anyone with a heart will want to avoid this graphic death animation and will attempt to keep as many Pikmin alive as possible. Unfortunately Pikmin are ridiculously fragile. Bulborbs scoop Pikmin up and eat mouthfuls of them like skittles. The environment is overflowing with other perils such as electrified walls, jets of fire and numerous foes. Once I accidentally detonated an entire Battalion of Pikmin with a chain reaction of bomb rocks and 100 spirits gasped simultaneously in horrifying agony. There was nothing else to do but turn off the Wii U and quit for the day.

Pikmin 3 is part exploration, part puzzle solving, part resource management and part combat. There are five different colors of Pikmin that each have different abilities that help to traverse the mazes. Yellow Pikmin can be tossed higher and conduct electricity, blue Pikmin can swim and red Pikmin are fireproof and are good fighters. The Purple and White Pikmin from Pikmin 2 have been replaced with Rock and Winged Pikmin. Rock Pikmin can be used to shatter glass or bean enemies in the head and Winged Pikmin can fly over obstacles. The new additions were a lot of fun and I think Rock Pikmin are my new favorites in the entire series (although I was happy to see Purples and Whites are still available in Mission mode).

The biggest change from previous titles (besides HD graphics) is that you have three characters who can be controlled simultaneously. Using the map on the Wii U Gamepad you can assign a character a destination and then switch to another character while the first character works his way towards the selected location. I would often have all three characters working autonomously in different areas of the map on separate objectives but some puzzles require collaboration from all three characters. Effectively multitasking between the three different and managing the different varieties of Pikmin is essential for success.

I played the entire game with my two young sons (who are 4 and 2) and they absolutely loved it. Each of them has their favorite Pikmin color (red for my older boy and blue for my younger) and they have been drawing pictures of Pikmin when we’re not playing the game (We even built a Lego Pikmin). They’ve started pretending that our family cats are Bulborbs and they seem to believe that Pikmin are living in the woods outside our house. The boys have enjoyed watching many of the games that I’ve played but never to the degree that they enjoy Pikmin. After beating the game I had to start it over because they won’t let me play anything else. My oldest son has been asking when Pikmin 4 will be coming out (Are you working on that Nintendo?).

My son with a Lego Pikmin.

My son with a Lego Pikmin.

I finished the game in 30 game days, so the length is comparable with the previous titles. When the game was over my wife asked ‘Is it over already?’ even though the in-game clock indicated I’d played for over 12 hours. The game seemed to go by very quickly, but you know what they say about time flying. After beating the game your score is saved and your world-wide rankings are displayed. I’m happy to say I was up towards the top of the bell curve for performance (although to be fair I did restart a few days that had gone poorly). High scores are saved so if you’re not satisfied with your score you can play through multiple times. There is also a Mission Mode and Bingo Battle mode so more content is available for anyone who wants to continue playing.

In spite of it being primarily a single player experience the entire family enjoyed Pikmin 3. I have other games left to play but I haven’t been able to talk the boys into letting me play any of them yet. Pikmin 3 is a fantastic game and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Pros

  • Play as three characters simultaneously.

Cons

  • Short levels.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 9/10
Length: 12 hours
System: Nintendo Wii U
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Quantum Conundrum

Date Completed : 2/4/2013

Quantum_Conundrum_cover

Quantum Conundrum wasn’t even on my radar until it was offered for free (with a 50$ Playstation Plus membership) so I decided to give it a go.  In this game you are the nephew of an eccentric scientist who has created a device that allows you to shift between dimensions.  Your Uncle is trapped in an alternate dimension and you have to work your way through his mansion to turn back on his power generators so he can escape.  You’ll have access to four alternate dimensions, each with different laws of physics.  The mansion is chocked full of the standard mad scientist fare – laser beams, killer robots, bottomless pits and science juice (which comes from an undisclosed biological source).

Gameplay is similar to Portal.   You work your way through a series of puzzles, except instead of using portals you switch between dimensions.  The fluffy dimension makes objects lighter, the heavy dimension increases their density, the slow dimension slows down time and the reverse dimension reverses gravity.  The puzzles can get pretty involved.  One of my favorite mechanics of the game is using the fluffy dimension to make a safe really light, picking it up, throwing it, slowing time down, running and jumping on top of the safe and flipping on anti-gravity so that the safe will fly into the air and across the room.

Your Uncle is able to communicate with you from his prison and he narrates the entire adventure.  My wife noticed that the voice of the Narrator is none other than John de Lancie, otherwise known as Q from Star Trek.  He does a great job delivering a funny script.

quantum-conundrum-ikeramba

Frickin’ Lasers!

The game is very family friendly and I played it mostly with my boys around.  There are lots of portraits of cloned cats on the walls of the mansion (later generations look…special) which the boys laughed at.  The actual gameplay wasn’t quite enough to keep their attention so they usually asked me to switch to Super Mario Bros or When Vikings Attack (the latter of which I should be finishing shortly).

The most memorable part of the game is the song (periodically referred to around the house as that damned song).  It only plays during the credits and from the Playstation menu but once it’s in your head it doesn’t come out.  Ever.  Don’t believe me?  Check YouTube.

Long story short, Quantum Conundrum is a fun, involved FPS style puzzle game.  It is definitely worth a look, especially if you can get it for free.

Pros

  • Involved Puzzles
  • Fun extras

Cons

  • Pay for DLC
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length:  8 hours
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Puzzle