693rd played so far

Genre: Role-Playing/Life Simulation
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus/Square Enix

I really enjoyed Persona 3 when I played it some time ago, more than I thought I would, with the life simulation aspects really appealing to me. I’d been holding off for a bit, but the random choice threw up Persona 4 and I had to go for it.

Notable here is that I’m actually playing Persona 4 Golden, the Vita port (which this series seems quite suitable for) that was realised more recently. It is, in fact, the only Vita game that’s been in our box to play, and I’m now happy I’ve got access to it – even if it means having to find the Vita first.

Our Thoughts

Persona 4 did not disappoint. There is a lot of life sim, requiring some optimization to make sure you build up your relationship with all your contacts as well as possible, both directly meeting them and building stats that change the subsequent conversations and increase the relationship gains. The writing might not be amazing, but the characters build quite nicely and the world you see is interesting and alive enough. There’s not loads of game, although it encourages frequent restarts with some random events, but it works well as a storytelling set up to take you through the year this game covers.

The other part of the game, the dungeon crawl, was weaker in the previous game. Here, I still struggle to really know what the relationship between the two halves of the game is – I know your powers depend on your link with the different major arcana in the tarot, but I never felt that I could actually feel the difference here. I know I’m building links for a reason, but I’m not sure what that reason actually is.

The dungeon crawl itself is good – it’s still exploring randomly generated dungeon floors (though more pre designed on certain floors than before) with the standard attack and magic items. However, first go now depends on you hitting your enemy earlier, rather than the initiative I noted before, and you restart your assault on the tower each time instead of going up in levels.

It’s a shame that you have to make a choice between the two modes: You can go into the dungeon most days, but it means skipping out on the life simulation. The latter is timetabled rather tightly, so you don’t end up going in other than when the plot demands, and that means I just don’t get enough exposure to the dungeon early on. I would have preferred a system that would have let you do both more frequently, with time limits and a plot that allowed for it. It’s close, but really not quite there yet.

Final Thoughts

I think I felt the same mismatch here as I did in Persona 3, a game of two halves that don’t quite meet up and feels less balanced than it should given the importance put on the dungeon crawl and setting up its statistics. It can feel oddly tacked on, and probably isn’t the best game that’s out there. It’s still a great game to play, though, and I’m looking forward to continuing it.

#1018 The Walking Dead

Posted: 10th May 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

692nd played so far

Genre: Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2012
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games

On other blog, I have written about reading the Walking Dead comic and watching the same TV series. The game is the third medium the series has done well in.

Telltale Games first became known for their Sam & Max and Monkey Island sequels, set up as shorter adventures that tied into a larger season plot. They did so for this zombies series as well and created their most acclaimed series – one I’ve mostly been avoiding because it was coming up on the blog. It’s time to complete the trifecta now.

Our Thoughts

While the comic and TV show follow the same storyline, the Walking Dead video game takes its own route. Starting at the moment of the zombie outbreak – some time before the other two – you’re a convict who gets his freedom thanks to a surprise run-in with a zombie. Throughout the five chapters, you do your best to survive while you take care of Clementine, a young girl you find early on who joins you and trusts you to bring her to her parents.

Throughout, the zombie threat looms, larger at some times than others. However, the real conflict comes from other humans, whether it’s because they are directly opposed to you or because they travel with you while you need to see whether you can keep them happy. It suits the themes of the series (next to the violence, which feels less in this installment). Throughout, as you might do in this situation, you travel with a small group of people. They join and leave – or more often get killed – as time goes on while your choices determine parts of where the story goes. It’s an interesting system and while a lot of it loops back, the responsiveness is fairly strong – and where it isn’t it’s because you are playing as a strong predefined character.

This is a game that thrives on its writing – its graphics are fine, but not amazing, and mostly are slightly exaggerated, enough to bring across the effects. They create a slight disconnect with the violence, which is still shocking, but not as much as the show does, and it’s nice how the gore isn’t as fetishized. The writing, though, is strong, with some strong characters that are very consistent between the writers of the different installments. Seeing some familiar names as writers help, with part of the staff going on to create the brilliant Firewatch later on, but I get the feeling they got a lot of space to take it in the right direction.

Another side effect of this is that although it’s an adventure, the game has few puzzles. At the most, you may need to find the right item quickly enough to avoid being killed, but mostly you talk your way through and determine how you would respond to everything that happens. Getting a puzzle ‘wrong’ often means a different choice in the story, rather than failing to progress. It feels like interactive storytelling at its best.

Final Thoughts

So the game elements here obviously extend beyond the even more story driven games we see these days, but it’s the story and the way your choices change it that matter here. The big decisions only happen twice in each episode, but you really feel how much they matter, and the smaller decisions feel like they resonate throughout as well. It’s heavy to play – not something you just jump in to relax after a heavy day at work – but it really feels it pays off.

#148 Shinobi

Posted: 6th May 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

691st played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

I really should have played Shinobi earlier for the most mundane reason: There are two games on the list with the exact same name, just separated by a decade or so. This isn’t uncommon in franchises, as the recent doublings of Doom and Prey show, but it doesn’t actually happen on the list.

We start with the earlier game in the series, a brawler platformer. Dime a dozen, so I wonder where this will go.

Our Thoughts

One thing that sets a game like these apart are how good its enemies are. When there are a lot of similar enemies, maybe with some weapon changes, but following similar patterns, it can get quite boring. Shinobi, however, brings a lot more variation in its enemies, and it’s welcome as a way to keep the game interesting. Well, even if they are difficult to remember how to avoid, it helps a lot. Even more so, they really use the heights well, with characters jumping and so on, so the platforming has a point and gives you more actual choices.

It helps that the game feels good, smooth to play through without the animation timing feeling it gets in your way. When you get used to a level, you can race through, kill the enemies you know exist, and get back to where you died. You still need to survive that run, but at least you get the chance and can get used to the patterns. What also helps is that you have a special attack once a level that kills every enemy on the screen. The attack changes each level, but it always seems to have a similar effect.

The basic story is told through the level – you rescue maidens throughout the level, often guarded by a smaller stronger boss, with at the end a big, more impressive boss who escapes at the end – setting up a goal quite nicely. I didn’t really need to worry about a written story to get an idea on what’s going on.

Last, one small nice feature is the bonus game. It switches to a first person view, where you are throwing stars at ninjas approaching you. It’s different, but it works.

Final Thoughts

Shinobi works well as a scrolling brawler, introducing a bunch more concepts than most and adding a lot of variety to keep the game fun throughout.

#511 Disaster Report

Posted: 2nd May 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

690th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform:Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Irem
Publisher: Irem/Agetec

As I’m writing this, it’s actually the first weekend of the new year and we watched the Disaster Artist yesterday – making for two names I keep mixing up – and put the Christmas decorations away. This may seem irrelevant, but because of the layout of our place, the PS2 is not very accessible when the Christmas tree is out – especially when I had to redo some cables so our PS2 can show its images in slightly higher def (and require less awkward cable swapping).

This meant that while I selected Disaster Report (or SOS: The Final Escape as it’s called here) as our next game a few weeks ago, I’ve been skipping it until I could reasonably play it again. We’re there now and it’s finally time to dive into this world.

Our Thoughts

One of the things I’ve never experienced where I live are earthquakes. I’m glad I’ve been able to avoid it as it feels horrendous. In Japan, however, they are more common, and although I don’t think it’s explicitly spelled out, a game about an artificial island wrecked by earthquake feels incredibly Japanese. There are even, from early on, tips on what to do and how to move to survive an earthquake.

The first semi tutorial area sets it up well. You’re on a bridge to the island. You have to make your way across, which involves climbing over barriers, jumping across places and carefully walking. This is set up to create some cinematic moments – the bridge drops away behind you, you have to run to make sure you escape without falling and at least once need to rescue someone from a falling subway car.

The world opens up after this first section, although it isn’t as open as it seems. There are sidepaths, but they’re not that long, and you need to trigger plot events to shift things in the world and open paths. Nicely, it feels like backtracking is usually possible (but that isn’t something I checked much), but there’s always a limited number of ways to go forward. It’s really where it takes on basic adventure roots – how do I get passed, where do I go, and what item do I use where to proceed. It’s combined with action segments (though no quicktime events – you have to think here) that mix up the speed quite nicely.

One of the things I obviously didn’t check is the new game plus mode. Apparently you can find a bunch more goodies and such. Maybe I’ll get to that one day.

Final Thoughts

Disaster Report presents an interesting setting to explore, sometimes frustrating to find your way around, but a different enough setup that it was more enjoyable than I first anticipated from the title. There isn’t as much rescuing as I thought there would be based on the title, instead there’s some bits of survival as you need to keep up your water levels and such. It’s probably a far more interesting path and tell its story better this way.

689th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC
Year of Release: 2012
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft

It’s been a few years since we played Far Cry 2, the Ubisoft open world game set in the jungle (as opposed to historical cities or Watch Dogs‘ futuristic city). This third game in the series was actually released after we played the second, being added in the list’s update, and with a lot of attention at the time.

Peter wanted to play it for his list and I joined in, going back to rule the jungle, but without malaria.

Our Thoughts

Far Cry seems to have a standard set up where you get captured in the jungle, escape and then try to defeat your captor – who is of course part of the bad guys in the game. They capture you and your friends – including your brother – and a lot of the game is you trying to reunite with them while taking out that gang.

You do this in a large open world, where survival is a bit of a thing. Not to the extent that you have to keep track of hunger levels or anything like that, but it feels like you’re constantly scrounging. What helps that is that you don’t just get normal upgrades – although they are in there – but that your inventory is mostly upgraded by you taking animal skins and turning them into different pouches. It’s a slightly different idea, nice, with the best upgrades locked behind special quest adventures. It makes it feel like there’s a bit more survival going on, even though it’s obviously not that realistic.

While exploring the world is great, if overwhelming, it falls down a bit at the plot missions. The main one that got to us is one where your weapons are taken away and you have to steal some as you stealth through a base. Stealth, because otherwise everyone will attack you at once and it gets overwhelming. Fine if you’ve been focusing on it, but the game is happy to let you rely on sniper rifles and the like before that, and Peter hit a real brick wall on this one. Part of the open world is that the game doesn’t telegraph you the preferred route – you have so many options – but that falls down when you can’t take another path and they don’t try to help you get along on the current one.

Final Thoughts

It’s a good game – overwhelming, sure, but a place you can get lost in. Just a shame it didn’t do that elsewhere, which was enough to stop us completely.

#639 Yoshi: Touch & Go

Posted: 24th April 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

688th played so far

Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Platform: DS
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

From the different Mario spin offs, the Yoshi series feels like the most enduring, but also the one drawing most on Mario’s past, using enemies and really just being story prequels with a different protagonist. At the same time, it experiments more than Mario platformers have done for a while and they have felt different. The childish, thick lined graphics alone give it their identity.

Yoshi Touch & Go is the sub franchise’s new contribution to the DS, the other being the DS port of Yoshi’s Island. Its control scheme, its unique point, is different…

Our Thoughts

In this game, you guide Yoshi by drawing clouds on the touch screen. He’ll keep walking or falling and you need to draw clouds on the bottom screen to guide him. When falling, that means anticipating what is coming, while when walking you’re staying ahead of that. You get the option to tap for a jump and to trap enemies in bubbles as well as creating cloud paths, but it’s still all indirect.

I’ll be honest, it’s fiddly and I don’t love it. At the same time, the game seems to be set up for that, with the challenge often being how long or how far you can hold on. Without save games or many real checkpoints, you’re really doing a score attack on an infinite runner, but in a game that presents itself as a platformer instead.

What adds to that is that the game can be incredibly dense with enemies and the hitboxes are fiddly and difficult to predict – you have less room than you think and can quickly lose out. You can capture enemies in bubbles to get rid of them, but you don’t always have time.

The game’s art is still gorgeous, with a hand drawn style that sets it apart from the rest of the Mario series. It’s a fun world and everything in the game seems to reflect that, even if it belies the actual difficulty.

Final Thoughts

Yoshi Touch & Go feels like a bit of a misleading game, the focus of the game seems a bit different from the platformers we normally see from the series. There’s some platforming, but the classic controls are missing and the challenges feel quite different to me. It’s fun once I got into that side of the game, even if I guess I didn’t get as far as I could.

#905 Colin McRae: Dirt 2

Posted: 20th April 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

687th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters

I’ve been enjoying racing games in the past – while loads get frustrating and I always feel unlikely to pick them up myself, I enjoy playing them as long as they go okay. Colin McRae: Dirt was an example of what I enjoyed – tough, with plenty of challenges, but also letting you progress without perfect results. It compromised and delivered a lot of fun.

For today, I pulled out the sequel to that game, and I’m optimistic that I’ll enjoy this one as well.

Our Thoughts

It didn’t quite work out as easy this time, and the first race almost feels to blame. Tutorials in racing games, I’ve come to realise, are crap because they don’t seem to match quite how the game plays normally. I always struggle more with them than the races that follow, which feels wrong. I mean, I’m still not great, but I never feel the tutorial helps me that much. Not having any customization in the first race doesn’t help either – the vehicle didn’t really suit me.

And it’s such a shame considering how the game is set up afterwards. Regardless of your result, you always get some cash and get closer to the end result, so it’s actually incredibly friendly to keeping you going once you get past this hurdle. Sure, it’s not easy, and especially not to get high in the rankings, but the game realises that you can play just to have fun, without having to be the best all the game. Sure, it helps and gives you a goal, but I don’t always feel the need to.

The other advantage, again, is that the game has many game modes. You’re not just racing around a circuit trying to beat a time (although there’s some of that as well) but end up doing rally stints, parts of laps and all sorts of different modes. It really adds to the variety of the game.

Final Thoughts

The variety and contents of the levels in the game make the whole thing enjoyable and I feel the game cares more about having fun than pushing you to always be the best. It’s quite refreshing and why it still feels like one of my favourite racing series.

#515 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

Posted: 16th April 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

686th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Ubi Soft
Publisher: Ubi Soft

Tom Clancy games have, in the past, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter showed earlier that its politics feel quite objectionable. That’s probably because the past few years have left me more open to seeing it, but it still feels a bit gross.

Splinter Cellis a bit older, but takes us to an alternative Georgia where the president was killed and a dictator took power. Because the Americans need to come about to protect against that. Here we go again.

Our Thoughts

Setting aside politics for the moment – I’ve gone through some of it before, and I’m sure far more eloquent people have written about it – I mostly tuned out on plot beats. Be stealthy, don’t get noticed and make your way into places. Why? It’s a game, I don’t really care this time. It’s not interesting and a lot of the game feels interchangable between settings anyway.

You’ve got a lengthy enough tutorial to introduce a bunch of different systems – though mostly standard for the genre at this point. Then it’s tackling the different missions. Checkpoints are frequent enough, but there were a few that I absolutely needed. The first mission has you breaking into a house, sneaking in to find some information. I was killed several times from direct fire and needed to sneak in. Whether or not I was hidden was unclear – some bushes did it, but others didn’t. In the end, there was a combination of sneaking when I had a chance, but violence when there was trouble. Not really as the game seemed to intend, but it worked for now. The frustration was there, though, and too early for me to say I just quit. I have standards here, just barely!

Final Thoughts

Splinter Cell was decent, not my favourite stealth experience, but it sufficed. The series turns me off, and I don’t get much more about of the shooting, but what’s there seems to have been competently done.

#980 Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Posted: 12th April 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

685th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Iphone
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito

Finally, this is the last of the rushed iOS games – everything else has an off-iOS alternative or just works. Here, you’d imagine that a company the size and age of Taito would have the ability to port one of their games, but apparently it hasn’t happened.

We’ve already played the first two listed Space Invaders games: both the original and Space Invaders Extreme. The new game is focused more on evolving gameplay, which should make for an interesting shift in the game.

Our Thoughts

While the game starts off like Space Invaders, the game’s whole point is that it starts to play with the formula – evolving it, as the game says. It’s a good way to modernise it – you don’t get the sudden change you might have in normal sequels, it doesn’t stay too simple, but gets a chance to ramp up quickly.

A good example of this comes early. A basic component of Space Invaders is you stuck in the bottom row, aliens advancing while you can only move left and right. Free movement feels like something of a later era. Here, however, it’s one of the evolutions that is introduced and gives the game a different atmosphere. It really changes the game, but with the ‘narrative’ justifying it, it becomes more natural. Beyond that, a lot of it seems to come down to weapon powerups and changes, as well as enemy behaviour.

Final Thoughts

I am not sure I would have accepted this game as much if it hadn’t been Space Invaders – so far, it hasn’t offered anything other shooters haven’t done. As a way to evolve a franchise, however, it has its high points.

#922 geoDefense Swarm

Posted: 8th April 2018 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

684th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Iphone
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Critical Thought Games

Time for another iOS game, knocking out the batch of games that won’t be playable once the old phone and ipad stop working. With geoDefense Swarm, we’re covering a tower defense game, one that looks fairly straight forward.

Our Thoughts

geoDefense Swarm is a pretty standard tower defense game. It has a heavy focus on tower placement, guiding creatures around the area, rather than using a standard path like we’ve seen in the likes of Defense Grid: The Awakening. It looks fairly standard, with futuristic wireframe graphics for both the towers and enemies. It’s effective but works to make it stay simple. Tower functionality is standard, with building, upgrading and standard setup.

There are plenty of enemies in each level, in groups that overwhelm you quickly. I struggled quite a bit at some of the levels. Although I didn’t lose yet in the levels I could play, it got closer than I was comfortable with.

Final Thoughts

I’ve played a bunch of tower defense games now and, to be honest, this one is quite standard. It works well for a mobile tower defense game, and will probably offer that if you can still get it. It doesn’t feel like quite as big of a loss, though, considering how the genre has grown.