Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

4May/170

Questing and Surviving

A few months ago while looking for a new adventure-ish game to couch co-op through we noticed King’s Quest episode 1 for free on Xbox Live. Being a bit of a PC adventure game fanatic I’m, of course, quite familiar with the King's Quest series. My girlfriend had probably never even heard of it, but I think the aesthetics and production value of the new game were intriguing enough on their own to get her attention. We grabbed the Xbox 360 version and made it through most of the episode, enjoying it immensely and vowing to return to finish it off. Many months later, we finally dedicated ourselves to playing through the entire run.

The Kingdom of Daventry!
"The Kingdom of Daventry!"

The second time around we grabbed the Xbox One version, which wasn’t notably different, and bought the season pass. Re-playing episode one and then, eventually, making our way through all of the episodes, our opinions never really waned despite the fact that each episode is somewhat of a departure from the last. That is, they each have slightly different tones and even different gameplay focuses. The first episode felt like some of the more traditional (pre-Walking Dead) Telltale games, and exuded a whimsical, storybook tone while episode 2 was much darker with a lot more traditional graphical adventure game style puzzles. Episode 3 was a mixed bag but overall much more story focused, episode 4 had tons of back to back logic puzzles, not unlike something like Myst, and episode 5 seemed to mix up all of these flavors into one final, satisfying, and somewhat emotional finale. This is an interesting strategy to keep each episode feeling fresh, but looking at comments online I found that it often seemed to have a negative effect - everyone seemed to have his or her own favorite episode and was disappointed that the others weren't more of the same.

The lure of adventure still calls out to old geezers like King Graham and I.
"The lure of adventure still calls out to old geezers like King Graham and I."

Speaking of personal preference, oh man is this game beautiful, but it's art is highly stylized and I'm sure a small percentage of players found it immediately objectionable. Hopefully a little less divisive is the great voice acting across the board, including notable appearances from Christopher Lloyd and Wallace Shawn. Not only does Wallace Shawn shamelessly re-visit his role as Vizzini from The Princess Bride but oddly there are even numerous nods and references to his scenes in the film. The music, while fairly unobtrusive, is also well done, with some notable callbacks to the themes of the original games. The whole package feels highly polished overall and you can really tell The Odd Gentlemen spent a lot of time and care researching and designing this game from the ground up.

The story arc takes you through King Graham’s life as an adventurer, from before he was King all the way until the end of his reign, and while each episode has its own plot, the story that connects the episodes feels much better written than the loose, probably largely ad-hoc, through-lines that tied the original King’s Quest games together. It mostly attempts to expand upon and tie together some of the gaps in the fiction of the original games as well as re-imagine some of them entirely. For instance, the plot of the first episode barrows many elements from the original King's Quest game, yet tells a bit of a different story, and the plot of the third episode is almost a re-telling of King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne without invalidating too much of it. Episode 4 seems to draw heavily from King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human. Beyond that, there’s all kinds of other nods and references to the original series of games which nostalgic fans will probably get a major kick out of, and there’s even some direct flashbacks to the old AGI and SCI engines.

King's Quest almost looks animated, a la Dragon's Lair, in stills.
"King's Quest almost looks animated, a la Dragon's Lair, in stills."

While I’m sure there are some, maybe even many, King’s Quest fans who didn’t enjoy this new series, I’m personally delighted by this reboot, or re-imagining as they prefer to call it, and love seeing Sierra’s name once again tied to a whimsical, clever, and beautiful adventure game. It seems like relatively few people I know have played through these episodes, even some who would seem to be in its target audience, but it’s such a complete package on its own that if poor sales don’t lead directly to a sequel I can’t say I’d be too disappointed. If you are one of those people, however, I’d encourage you to at least check out the first (free) episode and see if you think you might like more.

Speaking of co-op experience, I finally took the plunge and grabbed the Xbox One version of 7 Days to Die. If you’re not familiar with the game, it started life as a Minecraft clone aimed at focusing on the survival element of the game, dropping you in a bleak zombie apocalypse. The more development time the game got more it came into its own, both in terms of presentation, with graphics now much more realistic, and gameplay, a little more hardcore, bringing in some of the statistics heavy elements some survival games are known for.

It's an ugly, desolate wasteland, but it's home.
"It's an ugly, desolate wasteland, but it's home."

I had actually purchased the game on Steam ages ago but it didn’t run on my old gaming machine worth a damn so I barely touched it. When the console version of the game launched relatively recently I was amused by how harsh the feedback was. People were turned off by the graphics, not realizing the game’s roots. Instead of looking like a realistic take on Minecraft’s big, cartoony voxels, people saw an ugly attempt at a more modern game. Still, between people attacking the game’s relatively unsophisticated visuals, there were smatterings of people who were absolutely loving the game. The console port, in particular, has the increasingly rare featuring of supporting same screen couch co-op, which seemed to be one of the more endearing features to people. It definitely is to us!

So how is it? Imagine Minecraft (Okay, sorry to keep harping on this, but it was my original frame of reference for this game) if it had a that gritty, more realistic art style I mentioned, and... oh yeah, guns. Imagine if instead of mining and farming, that game was more focused on scavenging and crafting. That’s it, in a nutshell. Sounds fun? Yes, it’s fun!

Modern day Detroit, MI. width=
"Modern day Detroit, MI."

One thing I’m finding a little unusual is that this game has a reputation of being brutally difficult. In fact, the title comes from the fact that every 7 days the zombies will aggressively swarm to your location. Maybe we were just playing it a bit more cautiously than a lot of people, but we’ve yet to be too challenged. We immediately took over an old farmhouse and began fortifying it. We then used it as our base from which we went on limited scavenging and exploration runs in an increasing radius around us. Other than running into some harry spots in some more dense cities, it’s been relatively easy going thus far.

We’re still playing this game in 2 or so hour chunks at a time and, I’m guessing, will continue to play it here and there for quite awhile. It’s still fun, and we still sometimes find ourselves unable to put our controllers down. In fact, one of the first times we played it together we found ourselves up until 2 in the morning, which is rare for us - surely a good sign!

At long last, I also FINALLY started putting real effort into playing through Skyrim with the release of the new remastered “Special Edition.” I grabbed the Xbox One version of it with the intention of letting my girlfriend play through it again, yet she ended up getting more satisfaction out of peer pressuring me to play it and watching me stumble around like an idiot while she amuses herself with the supreme power foreknowledge. Well...

All Draugr really need is hugs. Hugs and lightening bolts.
"All Draugr really need is hugs. Hugs and lightening bolts."

So, seriously, what is there to say about Skyrim at this point that everyone hasn’t already heard? I’m playing a grizzled orc warrior and having an utter blast, which, frankly, is no surprise to me and shouldn’t be much of one to anyone who has ever glanced at this blog before, as I’m a huge Elder Scrolls fan. Sure, every Elder Scrolls title is a little divisive, even among fans, but ultimately Skyrim, for all of its pluses and negatives, is an Elder Scroll-ass game and a great one at that. The only downside is that this unfortunately means it’ll probably be quite a while before I move onto my next console game...

Xbox 360 and Xbox One screenshots stolen by the Khajiit and traded for sweet rolls...

5Feb/170

Stalactites and Stabbing Knights

My partner and I have been playing a few newer, console based, narrative heavy adventure-ish games lately, mostly as a way to play something semi-cooperatively as those types of games seem to work great for passing the controller and working together on choices and puzzles. I’ve mentioned playing all of The Walking Dead games on Xbox 360 and we also had a incredibly enjoyable but tragically unfinished foray into the first four Life is Strange episodes (more on that when we eventually go back to it and beat it) but for our next game I wanted to introduce her to something more puzzle focused, more like the classic adventure games I cut my teeth on. Low and behold, I remembered that I bought a copy of Double Fine’s The Cave, a game highly influenced by such adventure games, and what it lacks in narrative it makes up for by supporting simultaneous, same-screen co-operative play. Perfect!

Our cast, all complete and total bastards.
"Our cast, all complete and total bastards."

The Cave was written and directed by Ron Gilbert, one of the legendary LucasArts designers who helped bring us the absolute adventure genre classics Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, along with some of their sequels. Some of that influence is immediately obvious, in fact. Right off the bat you’re presented with a sarcastic narrator, a creepy, cartoony world, and asked to pick 3 characters that you can switch between to take on your adventure. There’s also a wacky, if not somewhat macabre sense of humor throughout (mostly from aforementioned hilarious narrator) which definitely feels like a throwback to the days of “talkie” LucasArts and Sierra games. Something I miss, frankly.

The game itself is a side scrolling puzzle platformer, but the big twist is that its puzzles aren’t based on platforming or physics so much, as old school, often baffling, location and object based adventure game puzzle design, in what, to me, is in an interesting and fairly unique way. Sure, there have been plenty of platformers that threw a few similar puzzles in here and there, but I can’t think of any as utterly focused on this style of puzzle solving as The Cave is. It’s almost a new genre. One of the ways it adapts to the more action orientated control scheme of a platformer is by utterly stripping the inventory system down to its bare essentials - you can only ever hold a single item at a time, and the puzzles are cleverly designed so that, despite how it may seem at times, you never need more than that to solve a puzzle.

I mean, who didn't love The Twins?!
"I mean, who didn't love The Twins?!"

Each of the three characters has one unique ability that is vital to solving some of the puzzles, and since you can use any combination of characters you may end up with wildly different solutions to the same puzzles. Furthermore, it uses the fact that you’ve got three characters that can be placed in different locations, and using different items, as a key component to solving the majority of the puzzles, much like some of the puzzles in Maniac Mansion. Again, very clever design.

Each character also brings with it its own unique gameplay sections which are the best and most challenging in the game. They also each get their own backstories explaining how they wound up in The Cave. Ultimately it turns out that each of the seemingly harmless adventurers has a dark side, and while The Cave rewards them with the selfish ends they seek, it also hilariously rubs their face in the repercussions of their terrible behavior. This game has some seriously funny moments, definitely one of the funniest games I’ve played in a while.

The Knight has what he came for...
"The Knight has what he came for..."

The Cave isn’t perfect, but it’s probably closer than most of Double Fine’s other efforts recently. Other than being a little loose controlling and having some (pedigree appropriately) insane puzzles here and there, the biggest issues in my mind are the areas that repeat no matter which characters you’re playing, which can be a bit of a chore to re-play over and over again, and the fact that having to choose from a pool of 7 characters means you have to play through the game a third time, re-playing two of the stories you’ve already completed, to truly complete the game. Ultimately these are minor quibbles though, I admit.

Adventure game fan? Pick it up. Fan of old school adventure game humor? Pick it up. Puzzle platformer fan? Pick it up. Just looking for something new to play co-op for a bit? Pick it up.

Random Mass Effect 3 Screenshot
"Random Mass Effect 3 Screenshot"

I also had the pleasure of watching my girlfriend play through the entirety of the Mass Effect series. Sure, I took the controller here and there, but for the most part I just watched. Yes, all three games. Damn. It was a cool experience though, both reminding me of how much I enjoyed the first Mass Effect along with finally exposing me to Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. I admit I started to check out a little bit with ME3, both in part to how surprisingly long it was, and because I definitely want to go back and ME2 and ME3 myself one of these days.

Like most people who Ezio meets, this Borgia guard is about to die in a brutal fashion.
"Like most people who Ezio meets, this Borgia guard is about to die in a brutal fashion."

Finally, wanting something a little different to sink my own teeth into, I dug Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood out of my backlog and completed it and its DLC. I loved the first couple of games and, as noted here, was pretty skeptical about them turning Assassin’s Creed 2 into a trilogy. I’m happy to report that I definitely really enjoyed the second piece of that trilogy, Brotherhood. Of course, I did take a comically long 6 year break between playing AC2 and AC: Brotherhood, but I digress, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m looking forward to playing Revelations sooner or later.

What did I think?

Seriously though, Rome is pretty amazing...
"Seriously though, Rome is pretty amazing..."

Let me try to keep this short and sweet: Ezio is still a badass, the world building is still amazing, and renaissance era Rome is great, the occasional times when the free running glitches out and you drop when you didn’t mean to, or jump off the wrong direction, are still a major buzzkill, and it seems like the more items and options they keep adding to this game the more opportunity there is for these types of glitches to pop up, the Facebook game-like follower missions are fairly pointless, but on the flipside being able to call in followers to take out targets is pretty awesome, I was disappointed that several of the 100% synchronization requirements were fairly difficult, though I enjoyed trying to 100% as many of them as I reasonably could pull off as a bit of an extra challenge, Leonardo’s war machines were some wacky fun, I liked that the game was confined to a single, massive city, but I wasn’t a fan of the fact that they still felt the need to block off certain sections of the map until later chapters, and while the story was fine, it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as AC2’s, I still loved to hate Cesare Borgia though, and finally the Desmond stuff was almost totally incidental beyond the cryptic ending.

I think that about does it. I liked it a lot, over all, and I’m itching to play another one, especially to revisit Altair’s story in Revelations. If only there weren’t, by now, another 6 full, long, potentially extremely repetitive Assassin's Creed games out. What the fuck?!

More console game shenanigans coming soon!

Sorry! As usual my Xbox 360 screenshots were actually pilfered from caves across renaissance Italy rather than my own console.

27Jun/160

Back to the Grind

I mentioned back in May that I planned to play F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin next but I decided to take a bit of a detour. You see, I came home from running some errands one otherwise beautiful day to find that my house had been broken into and a small assortment of my stuff had been burgled. They took all kinds of heartbreaking and distressing stuff, but as far as the scope of this blog is concerned, luckily the thief only took the few Xbox 360 games that I had out at the time, including F.E.A.R. 2. Much worse, they took my Xbox 360 itself which means I lost years and years worth of old saved games, some of which I had hoped to use to play some of the many sequels collecting dust in my backlog, but I digress. I wasted little time tracking down a decent second hand copy of F.E.A.R. 2 but still being quite bitter about the whole thing I decided I really needed a palate cleanser first: fresh off of my Xbox Live Arcade backlog, Jet Set Radio HD!

Beat performing and impressive and pointless trick.
"Beat performing and impressive and pointless trick."

Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio for us Americans) was a first party Sega Dreamcast game and a total classic to those of us who got into it. The game featured a colorful, semi-open world full of graffiti painting, rollerblading gangs realized in a unique cel shaded graphical style with a bizarre, fun soundtrack and a quirky Japanese sensibility about the whole thing. It’s a hard game to describe in a way that really does it justice. Liking extreme sports, graffiti culture, weird music, and quirky Japanese style myself, the game struck a chord with me and I found myself making my way through to the end of it and coming out on the other side quite a fan. Furthermore, the game’s sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, was one of my main justifications for buying an original Xbox.

This HD release of the game does little more than “up-res” the game to widescreen HD and add a couple of minor enhancements such as slightly better camera control. The models aren’t any more detailed, nor have the textures been improved, but this works fine as the simple, cel shaded style running in HD looks pretty much how you’d remember the game if you played it originally and conveniently forget that it was (probably) running in standard definition on a blurry CRT TV like most of us tend to do when we remember old console games. Really, I have no real complaints about the port itself, and I still love the frantic, crazy soundtrack, the unique graphics, and the weird, almost Katamari-like world, but the gameplay... ugh, the gameplay!

Gum, getting up!
"Gum, getting up!"

Its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, was an interesting game because it was almost as if Sega took all of the original design documents for Jet Set Radio and simply handed them to a different development team to interpret. In some ways it feels like a remake of the first title - the same characters, though re-designed, similar levels, but again, not quite the same, the plot feels very familiar too, but the gameplay is where the game turned into something else entirely. Jet powered rollerblades and graffiti? Check! Except JSRF was about skating and grinding around quickly and cleanly, and exploring, platforming, and collecting in huge levels. The original JSR, on the other hand, was more of an arcade experience. The levels were small and predictable, and despite the time limits and constant harassment from enemies (who couldn’t be defeated, you just had to deal with them) it wasn’t all that fast. Your score was supposed to be a big deal, and you were always having to race against the clock and your lack of spray cans. Oh and in case it doesn’t sound like it already, it was also, at times, fucking frustrating.

Actually one of DJ Professor K's more sensible lines.
"Actually one of DJ Professor K's more sensible lines."

I definitely had some nostalgia blinders on and I hadn’t really recalled how much I felt like I had to force my way through it until playing it again and those old, buried annoyances came rushing back up to the surface again. The biggest source of frustration is that the controls feel slightly less precise than what the game requires of you to execute and, when combined with some of the related skating mechanics feeling like they could use a little more polish, made the challenge feel just a little unfair at times. It's subtle and hard to really pin down, which really only adds to the frustration. To think, we were playing it with a Dreamcast controller to boot! While JSRF, being a 3D platformer, had plenty of frustrating moments itself, the more refined controls, the increased sense of speed, and the lack of time limits and invincible enemies, made it all feel like a much more enjoyable experience. Indeed, a lot of the memories I had of Jet Set Radio turned out to have actually been from Future. Oops! It should also be noted that I suppose that statement puts me on the JSRF side of a very divisive debate among fans. *shrug*

Cube skating through Brok... err, Bantam Street.
"Cube skating through Brok... err, Bantam Street."

So, the game wasn’t exactly the comfort food I was hungry for, but it was still a fun experience once I got used to some of its quirks and annoyances again, and goddamn if I don’t have Super Brothers stuck in my head just like it was 2000 all over again. That said, please Sega, release Jet Set Radio Future HD!

One really cool thing about this HD re-release is that the series is now available on PC for the first time, which is why I managed to steal such good screenshots for once.