Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

3Nov/130

Halloween Spirit

You know, like a lot of kids when I was young Halloween was easily one of my favorite times of year. Insane amounts of delicious, horrible candy, cool macabre decorations everywhere, and of course the costumes… oh the costumes! As an adult I still enjoy all of these things, plus we get the addition of drunken Halloween bashes and the seemingly ubiquitous “sexy” adult costumes to boot. Upgrade!

Still, for me Halloween as an adult has been largely a bust. This year wasn't going any different so I decided to try to head it off at the pass a little bit and get back in the spirit of the holiday – watch a couple of horror movies and, hey, why not play something Halloween themed too? I could have gone with one of the numerous horror or zombie themed games out there these days but instead If decided to cross Double Fine’s Costume Quest off of my XBLA backlog. I've been wanting to play it since the first reviews of it rolled in and what a better time than the week of Halloween itself?

Serious business...
"Serious business..."

Costume Quest isn't a horror game. It isn't even a scary game. It is, on the other hand, Halloween... as... fuck! It’s about a pair of siblings going out trick or treating when one of them gets kidnapped by a group of monsters that seem to be in the process of a massive candy heist. The theme of Halloween night and the childhood tradition of getting really hyped about getting dressed up and scoring mountains of candy is pulled off incredibly well. Even better perhaps is the relationship your character has with their sibling – the sometimes apathetic, sometimes love/hate relationship they have with each other really adds an authenticity to the experience. After all, if you had siblings you were sharing your holidays with them, for better or for worse. The writing is great and while I suppose it is kid friendly, this is clearly a game written by adults, for adults, and it’s hilarious.

Spying on some grubbin scum.
"Spying on some grubbin scum."

The game itself is a sort of simplified take on the classic JRPG. Your party roams around in a top down “overworld” perspective talking to NPCs, collecting and searching for candy, trick or treating (of course) and doing various, simple quests along the way, all with a fun, highly stylized and cartoony presentation. The combat is fittingly styled after traditional turn based party battles, with different costumes (which are collected throughout the course of the game) granting different powers and abilities. When the fight mode kicks in the graphics amusingly shift into a more realistic, gritty style giving the player a glimpse of what the world apparently looks like in the imaginations of our protagonists. Excellent!

Costume Quest has an overall high quality, nicely polished feel to it, which is what I’d expect from Double Fine. Maybe my only complaint here would be the lack of any voiced dialog but honestly I think I’d rather read text than have these snarky kids represented poorly by horrible adult attempts at child voice acting. It’s also a nice, short game clocking in at maybe 8 hours tops which I appreciate as the JRPG mechanics would probably overstay their welcome with me otherwise. There is an expansion, Grubbins on Ice, but it didn't really sound like it offered enough to justify extending the experience any further so I opted to skip it for now.

You bet your ass I used the Macross inspired robot costume!
"You bet your ass I used the Macross inspired robot costume!"

With what little I've written here I hope you can pretty clearly see the appeal of the game. Literally every one of my friends that I've described it to since I started playing thought it sounded awesome and I definitely enjoyed my romp through it. Perhaps some of the best praise I can give it is that it succeeded in helping remind me of what I loved so much about Halloween as a kid and rekindle a little of that Halloween spirit. Of course, all of this delicious candy I'm stuffing my face with doesn't hurt either...

As usual, these console screenshots were stolen from elsewhere...

3Nov/130

Escape from Oblivion!

I sure have been slacking on updates lately. Truthfully though, it’s not because I haven’t been gaming – I was simply in the mood to play a little more Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion after my last Garn update and so I decided to run out and pick up a used copy of the Xbox 360 GOTY version and go achievement hunting. Great plan, eh? Kind of at odds with trying to burn through my backlog though, especially with as little time as I've been gaming lately. 4 months later and I’m finally done. Ugh.

This was my first time playing Oblivion on console and I found playing the game with a controller surprisingly comfortable. With that, I also finally understand some of the odd choices they made with the interface in Oblivion – I always knew they were for the benefit of console players but the Oblivion interface actually works quite decently on Xbox 360. I admit it was a little odd not being able to apply mods or use the console for quick fixes but all in all it was quite a smooth experience and it was nice to play the game "pure" again considering my Garn playthrough is stacked with all kinds of mods.

I ended up rolling a female dark elf focused on stealth and archery. First, I don't usually play females in RPGs, usually opting to make my characters rough approximations of myself, but the whole point of this playthrough was to try doing things a little differently. Likewise, I know the whole “stealth archer” path is extremely popular in the newer Elder Scrolls games but I've never found the idea of going with archery as a primary weapon all that appealing. Very quickly into this game my opinion changed, however. While stealthing around and doing most of my killing from afar is definitely a little slower paced, it feels much more empowering than doing traditional melee or magic builds. Stealth headshots for huge damage insta-kills are extremely satisfying though I admit I did find myself using my sword more and more as my character grew in power simply to speed things along.

Into The Mouth of Madness!
"Into The Mouth of Madness!"

I decided to play her as a ruthless (but not quite evil) assassin and brought her through the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild quest lines first. I still find the Arena, Fighters Guild and Mages Guild quest lines to be rather tedious to repeat though, especially after not wrapping up the later too long ago in my Garn playthrough. It was interesting to observe that I was almost shepherded into being a semi-lawful, good character as I went through those later guilds and finally into the main storyline. By the time I was done my character didn't quite feel like the one I had started out with and I didn't feel like that change was all too voluntary either. Sure, I suppose I could have stolen everything not nailed down and killed random NPCs indiscriminately along the way but that really isn't what I was going for with her. Instead I found no real outlet to express my characters “alignment” (if you will) much of the time. Ah well, I suppose that’s more Bioware's bag than Bethesda’s.

More interesting, this was the first time I played through the Shivering Isles expansion! I enjoyed the campaign quite a bit overall though I think I’m really starting to sour on expansion and DLC packs that feel too much like separate content rather than continuations or additions to the main game content. With Shivering Isles, for instance, the tone of, well, everything about the experience really felt a little “off” after just beating the game’s main campaign. I know the expansion pack was probably intended to be played after the player had already abandoned the game for a while as sort of a "return to the game" experience and I’m sure it works much better that way. Regardless, I had fun stopping the Greymarch and who doesn't love the mad god Sheogorath?

Well, now that all of that is over with, more Garn posts coming soon!