Friday, June 27, 2014

1001 Spikes is COMPLETE!  

 Movies: Breaking news! Guillermo Del Toro has just announced that Pacific Rim is officially getting a sequel. (And more comics. And an animated series!) I am soooooooooooo stoked!  Bring on the Jaegers!!


Triumphs: So I just finished 1001 Spikes (Vita) a few minutes ago…

Wow, what a crushingly-hard, patience testing, self-esteem erasing game. In most levels, death comes in less than a fraction of a second, and pixel-perfect performance is required to progress through tough spots over and over again. I’m trying to think of a game I’ve played that was harder, but I’m not sure anything was. The Extreme levels in Trials or some of the rough patches in Super Meat Boy come to mind, but it’s possible 1001 Spikes tops them. Either way, this was some hard shit.

It’s a fantastic game, though. It’s made with the precision of a Swiss watch, and the challenges are always fair if you know what you’re doing. Fair definitely does not equate to being easy, but I can only think of one spot in this 15-to-20 hour experience where I felt like maybe the developer was pulling a fast one. Quick reflexes and quick thinking are required for success, but it’s all according to formula -- there aren’t any secrets or tricks here.

If you’re the sort of gamer who doesn’t shy away from a brutal challenge, 1001 Spikes gets my highest recommendations, for sure. For those who are curious, here are my stats:

Total playtime – 18 hours, 28 minutes.

Total deaths – 1177.

Average deaths per level – About 19.

Most deaths in a level – 149 deaths in 4-3. Runner up – 132 in 10-4.

Lives remaining at game’s end – 798

Also, major, major props go to @MikeSuskie and @Boiteabebelles for letting me lean on them when times were hard. They had good advice when I needed it, and sometimes it was just enough to know that someone else out there felt my pain. And joy.

Games: In other games news, it seems like a whole pile of things popped up out of nowhere, and I went from having not enough to play to having too much. It's a good problem to have, to be sure, but it's tough to find enough time to cover everything that deserves it.

Here are some quick mentions…

Ultra Street Fighter IV. (PS3/360) It's an add-on to the core game that brings four new characters and a bunch of other stuff. It's been a long time since I played Street Fighter with any proficiency so it's hard for me to pick up on all of the nuances, but Poison and Elena have been added to the roster, and in my book that's a big plus.

Z-Run. (Vita) This is a small game made by a small team that’s an auto-runner similar to Temple Run or One Epic Knight on iOS, except that it feels a little richer thanks to having actual controls. Basically, you play as a survivor trying to hoof his way out of the apocalypse, so you're dodging obstacles and whacking the undead. Or jump-kicking. Jump taking the undead works too. This one is a great idea, but it seems like it needs a little more time in the oven. Still, enjoying it in short bursts.

Blue Estate. (PS4) This is an on-rails shooter based on a comic book I'm never heard of, but it's a pretty interesting -- not only does it work well with the PS4 controller’s motion functions,  it also looks great and it's got a lot more of a story than you might expect. Also, whoo boy, is this one for the grown-ups. It’s got loads of salty language and one of the main characters is a stripper named Cherry Popz, so I'll let you fill in the rest.

Besides those, there've been a few other things that I would’ve liked to get to -- Shovel Knight, Battle Princess of Arcadias, the State of Decay: Lifeline expansion and the X-Blaze: Code Embryo visual novel among others, but there are only so many hours in the day and I don't have enough time for what I’ve already got. Still, some of these might be worth looking into if you have availability on your own personal gaming agenda…


NIS America is happy to announce that Fairy Fencer F will be available for digital and physical release for the PlayStation®3 in North America on September 23 and in Europe on September 26!

Developed by COMPILE HEART, Fairy Fencer F is a turn-based RPG that features character art by Tsunako (Hyperdimension Neptunia series), as well as concept art by Yoshitaka Amano and music by Nobuo Uematsu who are both renowned for their work on the classic Final Fantasy series.

Key Features:

Robust Combat System – Witness the next evolution of Hyperdimension Neptunia's battle engine! Move your characters in a fully 3-D environment as you link combos in thrilling turn-based combat! Exploit enemy weaknesses to trigger Avalanche Attacks and watch your party gang up on opponents! Send your enemies sky high with Launch Attacks, then follow up with an Air Attack to send them crashing back to Earth! And if fights get really tense, simply transform into your upgraded Fury Form and really bring the pain!

Untold Levels of Customization – Use the Furies you collect to give your characters powerful abilities, or use them to customize dungeons to your exact specifications! Need a little more "oomph!" in your swing? We've got a Shaping Effect for that! Want some extra experience points after battle? We've got a Shaping Effect for that too! But what if you're a masochist who wants everyone—allies and enemy alike—to deal DOUBLE damage? Oh, you best believe we've got a Shaping Effect for that!

Artistic Pedigree – Enjoy the dulcet tones of renowned composer Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for many of the Final Fantasy titles. With character designs by Tsunako (Hyperdimension Neptunia) and Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy I-VI), the line between cute and menacing has never been more blurred!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Murdered: Soul Suspect, Entwined, 1001 Spikes, Luftrausers, and My Favorite Podcasts  


Games: So, it took me forever (and really, it's not a long game) but I finally rolled credits on Murdered: Soul Suspect, and you know what? I really liked it a lot.

We really don't have enough detective stories and murder mysteries in gaming, so it's nice to get one that kept me guessing until the end. I genuinely did not know how it was going to turn out, and it was a nice surprise when I got there. Of course, I freely admit to not being the best at guessing who the guilty parties are when I watch or read mysteries, but hey.

Other high points? The voice acting was top-notch and I give major points for the game being mostly free of combat. The player will encounter a group of demons to be destroyed or avoided approximately once in every big "scene", but there are long, long stretches when all that’s happening is the player walking around to look for clues, and it was pretty cool.

Of course, it's got downsides like anything else does. The biggest thing is that Squeenix was crazy to release this at full price. Everything about the game screams "mid-tier experimental”, and it should've never hit retail for more than $30. At that price, I think people would be more willing to take a chance on something so unconventional, but when asking for the big bucks, it's hard to make the case. I’m not saying it's a bad game at all (because it's not!) but when 60 bones are on the line, it just doesn't stack up.

Apart from that, the biggest problem I had is that the autosaves kick in far too infrequently, and there's no manual save. As such, I found it tough to find time when I knew I would not be interrupted because I never wanted to lose progress in case I got called away, and it's impossible to predict when the game registers something significant enough to save.

Besides those things, the usual caveats apply. It's not totally polished, there are some weird hiccups here and there, and so on… The usual stuff you'd expect from a mid-tier title, but nothing major. If you’re a person like me who puts a lot of importance on the narrative and characterizations in games, Soul Suspect is worth checking out. There are plenty of places where it could improve, but these developers are totally on the right track. I hope they get the chance to make another one.

Earlier this evening I started (and finished!) and Entwined on the PS4. I hadn't heard much about it, but the YouTube trailer looked like Brad-bait, so I took the plunge.

The gist of it is that the player controls a fish and a bird at the same time (one on each stick) and they fly down a cylinder in space. The player must maneuver each of them independently through hoops that match the color of the animal, and at the end they merge into a dragon to fly around. Aaaaaand that’s it.

I really dig the aesthetics and it seems like there are the beginnings of some cool things here, but my biggest takeaway is that it just doesn't feel finished or even very well-thought out. For instance, it seems like it's trying to tell some sort of a story, but there's nothing there apart from some extremely vague impressions. Likewise, the gameplay is incredibly simple and I got tired of it about halfway through -- and the game is only about 90 minutes long, if that!

I kept waiting for the play to get deeper, the story to get richer, or for something interesting to happen, but what you see in the first level is what you get for the whole game, and it really doesn't develop any further.  It looks great in a trailer, but does not seem like something ready for prime time at all.

I've had a lot of time with the Vita lately, and I am quite proud to say that I finished 1001 Spikes a couple of days ago. This little hardcore platformer is difficult as fuck, and it was an exercise in hand-eye coordination and frustration management to make my way through, but I did it. 

I honestly think it's a great game, but the difficulty does get out of hand in certain spots, especially at the end… I don't really want to spoil the surprise for anyone, but let's just say that once you get to the end, everything that came before it seems like easy mode. Still, totally recommended if you want to have your ass kicked for a while.

I can't remember if I mentioned it here at the blog before, but I've been dipping into Luftrausers, also on Vita. I had heard about this title about 14 billion times from other people, but it wasn't until I saw it on sale for $5 that I jumped in. It was definitely worth that price, and I had a great time with it…

The concept of 2D combat flying (plus physics!) is simple and the mechanics are solid, and in general, it's a great play-for-15-minutes game, but I do have to say that it doesn't feel as balanced or polished as it should. Some of the in-game "missions" are incredibly tough, and rely on randomly-generated conditions before they can be completed. 

Apart from that, there's a mode called "SFMT" that unlocks after you beat one of the sky-filling blimps, and that mode is so incredibly hard that I rarely last more than ten seconds. I don't understand what kind of superhuman is able to play SFMT, but it's disappointing to know that I probably won't ever be able to complete the game because of it. Still, I enjoyed it for a good long while, and would certainly recommend it to action lovers on the Vita.

Podcasts: A couple of quick shout-outs to some podcasts that I really dig --

First up is GaymeBar. I think I've been following this one for about a year or so, and I have to say, the discussions between the three hosts are incredibly intelligent and insightful. I may not always agree with their final verdict on certain games, but I feel like I always learn something when I listen to them, whether it's their perspective on social issues, or in-depth examination of a title I hadn't considered before. There's also quite a bit of humor and general commentary, although it never reaches obnoxious levels the way that it does on some other podcasts. There's usually a fair bit of chatter at the beginning, so if you're a person (like me!) who doesn't go in for a lot of non-game talk, just hang tight. Once the guys get into the games, it's some of the best game chat I’ve heard.

Next up, readers of Coffeecola will know I have much love for Josh and Jay’sExcellent Videogame Show (featuring Rowan Kaiser) and that remains true to this day. These guys have a great chemistry between the three of them, and having listened to them for quite some time, it's nice to hear the way they work in callbacks and references. It’s almost like they're doing a comedy routine, and I mean that in the best possible sense. However, much like Gaymebar, when these guys start talking about titles in detail, they get into it quite honestly and call it like they see it. The lack of bullshit is pretty refreshing, and they make me laugh.

Finally, a mention for Chic Pixel Plus, from my friend @ApricotSushi. I think she does an absolutely fantastic job as host, and while I can't claim as much knowledge or as deep an appreciation for Japanese stuff as she can, she manages to make it all quite interesting, and the guests she chooses are thoughtful and well spoken. This pod is pretty much a must-listen for any Japanophile, and even if you're not much into that side of things, just hearing the way she runs her show is worthwhile.

Of course, there are plenty of other shows that I listen to, but I can’t get into all of them in detail now. Apologies to those I didn't get into, but I still love Cane & Rinse, Gameburst, The Dark Souls Two, Snap Judgment, Experience Points, and The Lonely Tardis!)


Friday, June 13, 2014

45 Minutes with the Destiny Alpha on PS4  


Games: Spent about 45 minutes with the new Destiny alpha on PS4 tonight, and streamed it as well.

Although I’m not a Halo fan, I've been pretty interested in this one ever since I went to Bungie headquarters last year for a quick peek. Although there weren't many hard details at the time, I got a general sense of what they were shooting for, and now that I've had hands-on, I'm happy to see that it basically ended up as exactly what I was expecting, in a good way.

Here’s a quick rundown.

I started things by making a Warlock-class character, and there were two other classes available. There were a decent amount of customization options (male/female, human/alien/robot) although I expected that more details would be able to be changed. Maybe later. Still, I was able to create someone who looked reasonably like my beloved FemShep, and that was what I was aiming for.

Once my character was made, I was put into a mission in Russia, and the area was quite open and easy to navigate. The game controls just like you’d think a Sci-Fi FPS should, with everything being standard except for the "special ability" mapped to the L1 button. In my case, it was a sort of purple magic grenade. Also, my melee was an energy burst/push-back sort of thing, mapped to R1. After leveling up once, I also unlocked a super move triggered by L1+R1 -- sort of a super fireball, and it was neat to see the camera pull back to show me throwing it in third-person.

After messing around some more, I found that the controller’s touchpad brings up a little robotic buddy that comes with you (looks like the little Bits from Tron) and while it’s active,  you can leave the level and return to homebase, or you can summon a vehicle at any time. My ride looked a bit like a speederbike from Return of the Jedi, but there are slots in the menu for plenty of other types, it seems. Again, I was happy to see the camera go into third-person for the vehicle section. Also, the homebase sections are in third as well. I'm not the biggest fan of first-person viewpoints, so I appreciated multiple opportunities to see my character, and not just her hand holding a gun.

The first mission was to cross the area and enter a large structure to find out what the aliens were hiding in there. This felt like a story-oriented sort of thing. The second mission was more freeform, with assignment markers scattered in the level, able to be started at-will. One had me collecting resources from downed aliens, one had me scouting the scene, and two were just ‘kill X number of dudes’, but the action was tense and enjoyable.

Towards the tail end of my playtime, I came across a few other real players who were in the same area that I was, and that was a neat occurrence. I’ve said this before and it still holds true now-- Destiny strikes me as a higher-octane version of Defiance, and that's a good thing. It's got the same open-world sort of philosophy, the same drop in/drop out co-op, similar use of vehicles, and other ideas that seem to be in the same ballpark. Of course, Destiny looks and feels about 42,000,000 times more polished than Defiance, but their cores are similar, and since I had a blast with Defiance, I’m expecting that’ll hold true here as well.

You had a good run, Defiance, but I'm pretty sure it's over now...

After the clearing the mission, I went back to base and chilled out for a bit… It's a standard sort of city-like hub, small in size with some merchants to get things from and a few people to talk to, but it seems like this place is still under construction. More to come here, I’m certain.

Overall, this was a super-positive first impression, essentially delivering exactly what I expected with a few extra surprises. I'm definitely looking forward to some co-op with friends and to get a taste for what the other missions are like. So far though, Destiny seems like a big thumbs up.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Signing, Murdered: Soul Suspect, 1001 Spikes and No E3 Talk.  


Books: I'm going to be appearing at the Indie Book Fair in Seattle this weekend in support of my latest, Speaking in Forked Tongues

If you’re in the area and you’d like to pick up a physical copy and have it signed, come on down!


Games: E3! E3! E3!

No, I'm not there but there's been an absolute avalanche of news and previews coming out over the last couple of days. I'm not going to attempt to cover it in any way, shape or form at the moment -- there are a thousand sites out there that are doing a great job, so it's going to be business as usual tonight. I may have some things to say about it once the dust has settled, but for right now it's Coffeecola, for better or worse. 

Anyway, I've been ridicu-busy with real-life stuff lately so I haven't been able to keep up my usual speedy turnaround, but I have been plugging away at a few things.

First up is Murdered: Soul Suspect.  This one seems to be a real hot-or-cold one with reviewers in general, but me? I'm liking it.

The gist is that the player takes control of a detective who is murdered, but immediately comes back as a ghost before setting out to solve the case and catch the bad guy. The premise is a strong one and the voice acting is great, but what's really selling me on the title is just how weird it is in relation to modern design sensibility.

I believe it was my friend @DavidRobots who said that it struck him as something from the PS2 era, back when we were treated to all manner of strange things that took a lot of chances and rarely conformed to any one genre. That’s a smart observation, and one I agree with.

Since the player is a ghost, there's extremely little combat so far (you get chased by the occasional demon here and there, but it hardly comes up) so most of the time is spent walking around and looking for clues. Once you find a few, you have to string together semi-logical statements that progress the story, basically solving each step of the case as you go.

It's far from perfect and there’s all sorts of weird things happening in both the design and tech side, but it's really clicking with me. I like the main character, I like the idea of walking around as a ghost and just taking things in, and the developers do a pretty good job of crafting an interesting world. I'm not very far in (only the third or fourth major scene) but it's definitely keeping my interest and I like what I've seen so far.

Square-Enix was bonkers for launching this as a standard $60 game, though – I’d have a much easier time recommending it a $20-$30.

Also, though I'm still playing it, I just turned in my review for Monster Monpiece on the Vita. 

I won't get into it too much now since you'll be able to read it soon, but in a nutshell, it's a really great CCG-like wrapped in a lot of T&A and saddled with some of the most insipid, immature touch controls I've ever seen. I genuinely enjoy the game and think it's very well-made in most aspects, but those touch controls are just too much. Someone, somewhere really needs to grow the fuck up in a serious way.

Speaking of the Vita, mine’s getting a lot of play these days, as I'm also working on 1001 Spikes, a 2-D platformer that’s as hard as hateful nails.

To be fair, it's excellently made and there's a ton of content for people who want to dig into it, though it needs to be unlocked via a few different ways. For those who have the patience and the skill, it is a title worthy of respect.

On the other hand…IT IS SO HARD. Although I don't want to say that it's cheap or unfair, it's definitely a big believer in the "try and die" mentality, and demands a super-high level of attention and total focus from the player in order to progress.

I definitely like it it and I'm still working on the campaign, but there have been moments when I wonder how much the dev hated humanity for creating some of these levels. I've ragequit a few times, but then I inevitably come back to it after I cool off. The fact that I keep coming back to it says something about its quality, really.

Movies: I'm pretty late to the party on this one, but I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past a week or so ago, and I have to say I thought it was pretty damn boring.

Full disclosure, I was out of the X-Men (comics-wise) before DoFP came out, so I have no nostalgia for it from the books. I knew the gist, but it's not like I went into the film waiting to see specific beats or knowing it as someone who was more of a fan might.

Long story short (and no spoilers) I thought the characters made some extremely poor decisions that weren't really backed up in the movie, the action wasn't very exciting, and the film didn't do a great job of drawing me in. 

I had a much better time with Captain America: Winter Soldier, and in general, I like the way that Marvel is doing the movies on that side of the divide better than the way the X-Men and Spider-Man have been going. Hopefully all of the licensing rights will get worked out at some point, and the whole Marvel universe will get the same cohesive treatment.