Thursday, June 14, 2018

Nintendo To Plays - Volume 3

Greetings, #TeamHandheld. Today I have twelve Switch games to talk about. There's one great game, a few that need some tweaks, and a few duds. All in all, this was a fun batch to play, even if they were not all great. I enjoy these kinds of sessions, as it's nice to sample a variety of different titles. Let's get to this.

Nintendo To Plays - Volume 3

West of Loathing

As soon as I saw the Switch release trailer for West of Loathing, I knew that this was going to be my thing, and I was so glad to be right. This game is breezy, loaded with content, and at the same time paced so well that you don't even realize how much you've been doing that wasn't even necessary. The side content is great, and it's just like playing Fallout, but with stick figures who have 100 times the personalities. I could not put this down once I started and am super glad that I got a chance to play this. It's an amazing RPG and an experience I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys fun. There were plenty of honest laugh out loud moments throughout and that's rare in games for me.



Never Stop Sneakin'

Never Stop Sneakin' was almost great. I really enjoy the core concept of sneaking around stages, attacking enemies from behind, and collecting items while staying hidden. In fact, it's one of the only stealth games that I've really enjoyed. The boss fights are fun and in general everything about the general gameplay is right up my alley. The problem is that the game apparently isn't comfortable letting you just do that and be done, because if you die you have to start from the very beginning and redo everything. The stages are not exciting enough to warrant doing that, so for whatever reason the designer wanted you to have to repeat these areas. That doesn't work for me. Had the game just had a linear progression instead of repeating these, I'd have blasted through it and loved it, but I'm just not sure what the point is as it stands. This is such wasted potential, especially for something I was enjoying so much.



Golf Story

An RPG based around golf is such a novel idea. Golf Story has a lot of personality and is super charming. It also helps that the golfing side of things is fun and responsive as well since you'll be playing a lot of golf. There are tons of side quests and secondary things you can get lost doing, but the story will drive you to complete certain tasks that teach you how to play the game without looking like a tutorial. It's quite brilliant, and if you enjoy playing a golf game, the RPG wrappings will just make it better. While I haven't been hooked on it, it's been fun to play in bursts like a sports game instead of an RPG. Tackling a few tasks here and there feels good, as there is a lot to get through to complete the game, so finding a good pace is ideal.



Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

XCOM meets Mario and Rabbids sounds like the craziest idea ever and it might just be. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle doesn't shy away from its goofiness and is better for it, even if you hate the Rabbids. I tolerate them well enough that they don't bother me, but I can't seem to get into the strategy side of things well. I'm a fan of TRPGs, but I can be picky about them and this has yet to spark anything in me that makes this stand out in the gameplay area. Maybe it's a little too XCOM and not enough TRPG for me. I'll return to this with a fresher mind sometime and see if that helps.



Joe Dever's Lone Wolf

The idea behind Joe Dever's Lone Wolf seemed perfect for me. It's a mix of choose your own adventure gameplay and RPG combat all in one. It just doesn't work for me in practice, because I had some issues with the UI being annoying to deal with. Combat ended up taking too long, managing inventory got old quick, and working through areas ended up being more difficult than it should be thanks to the UI. I just want to make choices and fight things, but other things kept getting in the way of that. This game really seems like something I should love, but my first impression killed a lot of my good will.



Moon Hunters

Billed as a co-op RPG personality test, Moon Hunters makes a bold claim. The personality test choices never really did much, and I finished the game without thinking much about it, but the gameplay loop of smashing enemies was solid enough to keep me going despite not having anyone else to play with in-game. It was a solid first effort for a game, but needed a little more content to really be something memorable.



I Am Setsuna

Having bought I Am Setsuna on PS4 after Square Enix opted to leave the Vita version a non-localized mess, I just couldn't get into it. I figured maybe getting it on Switch would help since I would at least be able to play it on the go. Sadly, it doesn't matter what you play this game on, it's an attempt at nostalgia gone totally wrong. Too often RPGs try to stir up the name of Chrono Trigger to spark old memories of days long gone and I Am Setsuna from Tokyo RPG Factory does that without shame, but it has nothing of substance outside of a lovely piano-focused soundtrack to back it up. The game is slow, combat is plodding, and the characters and story are all reused ideas. The only real tie to Chrono Trigger the game even tries to bring is the three character combat with cross character combo attacks. It's all pretty dull and shameless in most aspects. Longing for something from the past tends to lead only to disappointment in gaming these days, so Tokyo RPG Factory needs to get its act together if it expects to be a force for good.



Thimbleweed Park

I can remember playing Maniac Mansion on NES back in the day, but I mostly just stumbled around and never made much progress. I've also dug into the remaster of Day of the Tentacle on Vita more recently, and I found that neither really were for me. I guess I'm just not a curious enough of person to get the appeal. So with Thimbleweed Park, it was going to be an uphill battle to get me on board. Starting off, the biggest hurdle for me is too many options. I'm not ashamed to admit that the ability and necessity to swap between multiple characters to solve puzzles sometimes overwhelms me, because I have a desire to try everything possible with every single character which takes forever and usually accomplishes nothing. A game like Broken Age actually worked well for me by limiting that to two characters, and I much enjoyed it for doing so. I imagine much of Thimbleweed Park's appeal is the multitude character angle and I respect that, but it meant that I was burning out quickly and didn't get far as a result. The production vales seem great and I can tell this is special, but I didn't make much of a dent for now. Maybe down the road I can try again with a clearer head space.



Pankapu

Pankapu is a pretty looking platformer, but it doesn't really do anything special. I was able to explore around, jump over spikes, fight enemies, and all the usual things, but it didn't do anything to stand out or even excel in these areas. Despite looking good, it got dry quickly so I moved on.



Spelunker Party!

Spelunker Party! is a game where you get to move through a cave collecting items and awkwardly jump over minor obstacles. You find keys to allow you to progress and continue to do the same thing over and over. As I said, the jumping is slow and even tiny pits require you to be precise. It's not that great. What's more is that this game is built around a multiplayer concept of being able to team up with others online, but that's all but dead. I'm not really sure what the focus was long-term here, but it didn't hold up and you're not missing anything by skipping it.



Phantom Trigger

There's just something about Phantom Trigger that never clicked with me. It seemed like the combat was going to be deeper, but in reality I simply kept wandering around a colorful neon dungeon randomly killing enemies for no reason. The structure seemed to random and chaotic for me, as I was rarely able to tell if or how I was making progress. It was all a bit too much, though it sure looked lovely while going through it.



NBA Playgrounds

I picked up NBA Playgrounds at launch before the long wait for online play began, but it honestly didn't matter too much. While hoping for a fun throwback to NBA Jam, but what I got was a watered-down version instead complete with card packs used to unlock new players. Ugh. I've never been a fan of loot boxes, and the original NBA Jam spoiled me by not only having good players from the start, but having fun ways to unlock new ones, not this garbage. While the gameplay itself isn't half bad, the general implementation of the game ruined it for me. Move away from card packs and maybe I'll return for the sequel.



That is all for now, so I hope you enjoyed this breakdown. Please stay tuned, as I've already started working on the next batch.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified Review

The Vita is currently struggling to find a market worldwide. In North America, one would think that a Call of Duty game would be a simple solution to that problem. After all, what would be a bigger draw than one of the bestselling franchises in the country? It seems like a no-brainer, but something that should have been a surefire recipe for success somehow turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is a first-person military shooter that's supposed to fill in the story gap between the console versions of Black Ops and Black Ops 2. Unlike those titles, Declassified isn't developed by Treyarch. Instead, dev duty was handed over to Nihilistic, a developer who most recently worked on another Vita first-person shooter (FPS), Resistance: Burning Skies. Being the developer's second shot with the hardware, one would have expected a more complete experience, but that was not to be.



The first area where Declassified is found wanting is in its single-player modes. The story is told over the course of ten operations, though suggesting that there is actually a story here is a bit of a stretch. The game quickly jumps from mission to mission with only short briefings beforehand and a little additional info afterward. This is somehow supposed to bridge the story gap between the console releases? It doesn't seem to tell any coherent story at all.

What about the missions themselves? First off, there are no checkpoints in missions, so if an operation is failed, it's right back to the beginning. Most of them are fairly simple to complete, but there are a couple that will likely require multiple attempts. These aren't extremely challenging, so much as they are frustrating—repeating even brief sections over and over grates on the nerves. That said, each operation only takes about five to ten minutes, so the entirety of the campaign is over in less than an hour. This is supposed to be a single-player mode? It's barren.

There are two other solo modes: Time Trials and Hostiles. In Time Trials, players get to blast through one of five training missions, each taking around a minute. The point of this mode is to shoot targets while avoiding civilian casualties. Like the campaign, there's not a lot of depth. Hostiles mode has a bit of length to it, as it places the player in a zone to battle waves of enemy forces. That said, there are only five different stages and it's only available solo, so even though it lasts longer than the other modes, it lacks a hook to hold interest without the multiplayer social aspect that makes most Horde modes interesting.



With only an hour or two of single-player content, Declassified needed a strong multiplayer presence to save it. There are five different modes available in multiplayer: standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, dog tag gathering Team Deathmatch, team-based zone protection ("Drop Zone") and finally, a mode that simply shuffles up the three team modes. These modes could have been a great boon for Declassified, but the online play is inconsistent, and not being able to reliably play kills any hope of that.

In my experience, the game would sometimes inexplicably jump back to the multiplayer menu without a warning. A few times, a connection error popped up while just trying to access the multiplayer mode. During one match, the game completely crashed and had to be restarted. There's already been a patch and there's talk of another, but as of this writing, multiplayer is spotty at best. This is a shame, because Declassified runs smoothly when it works and has similar level-up hooks compared to those its console brethren offers, but it needs to be stable to be successful. If this gets fixed that could be fantastic, because the multiplayer modes are actually enjoyable. Declassified was a painful experience because it actually plays and controls very well. Movement is responsive, targeting has an assist feature which helps with aiming, and FPS controls map wonderfully to the Vita. The touchscreen is useful for throwing grenades or using melee attacks, for instance. Everything feels right, so for a game with such a solid foundation, the fact that it's so shallow in single-player and so spotty in multiplayer is awful to see. With more time and care, this might have actually been a solid game.

It's impossible to tell where the fault lies with Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Did Activision force Nihilistic to rush it out the door? Did Nihilistic simply put out the bare minimum effort? Is this half-hearted experience exactly what Activision wanted? Regardless of the reasons behind it, what we've ended up with is a completely wasted opportunity to bring some heavy firepower to the Vita.

This is a repost from GameCritics.com.

Vita To Plays - Volume 4

Greetings, #TeamHandheld. This volume I have a pretty heavy RPG load, but not all of them are greats. I also decided to go back and pick up a game or two that I've actually played already, but have yet to write about. I will be mixing those in here and there like I did with my latest Nintendo post so that I can continue to write. Sound fun? Let's dive in and see.


Vita To Plays - Volume 4

Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten DX

I've never been much for tower defense games, mostly because they feel impersonal and dry. Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten DX fixes that by adding in a lot of personality and RPG content to make it much easier to slide into thanks to having an actual party. The cast is cute, each with their own quirks and charm, so even though you can (and should, at least for me) pad things with some generic characters, the personal feel is still there. The mechanics are still pretty straightforward for a tower defense game. You fight off waves of enemies while trying to protect your librarian mage who has the magical power to summon these helper characters. Positioning and boosting your fighters is key to success. I'll admit that I'm not good enough to have finished the game beating all the stages on normal, as I dropped many later battles to casual, especially the boss fights. That's not a problem for me as I have no shame playing on easy, and I still had a blast with this.



Iconoclasts

Iconoclasts is a pretty good Metroid-style action adventure game. The story and characters were the best part, because the game itself never gave me the action power curve I was looking for. The highlights are the boss fights and story, and despite having some issues with the ending and the choices you don't actually have, it was still fun all the way through. I finished it a while back, but I just wanted to finally touch on it, because I did have an enjoyable time playing through and things never really got too puzzling. It's a pretty well-balanced game with a lot of story and dialogue, but like I said, the power growth curve was missing so that would have been nice to have had.



Stranger of Sword City

I'll say this, Stranger of Sword City is about as bog standard of a first person dungeon crawler as you could ask for. You create a main character out of some pretty basic classes, and though I did get the option to make a samurai, it wasn't super unique. You fight generic fantasy monsters inside a drab dungeon and eventually get to make your own party out of the same fighter, mage, healer archetypes. Combat can be super quick, but it's still pretty bare-bones and uninteresting overall. The story does nothing early on to stand out and the characters are fairly one dimensional. My kingdom for a game like this with some personality.



Toukiden: Kiwami

If you can imagine taking the Monster Hunter concept of fighting smaller foes followed by larger ones and combine that with Omega Force-style areas and swarms of enemies then you have Toukiden: Kiwami. You get to create a character and pick your weapon type, each of which handles in its own style. Combat isn't too exciting and the missions are fairly dull, but it's one of the most playable Omega Force games I've touched. That said, there's not enough here to keep me going.



Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls

I've tried many a Neptune game and tend to find them too verbose for my liking. I'd much rather actually be playing an RPG than reading superfluous dialogue. Superdimension Neptune VS Sega Hard Girls has its fair share of text, but actually gets to the action pretty quickly. Movement within dungeons is super clunky and plodding, but combat is better. I thought this was going to be more action focused, but combat involves having your active character move close to an enemy and spamming attacks in turn-based fashion. You can jump or use skills as well, but it's all much more basic than it seems. Time travel is the focus of the story, but it really didn't do much to keep me interested. I suppose if you like the Neptune cast you'll be in heaven, but this did nothing to change my mind about the series. It's not offensive, but just too talky for my liking.



Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky

I've tried a couple of the Atelier games before and none of them have clicked yet. Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky hasn't fixed this despite the characters being charming. Escha and Logy are a fun pair, but man this game starts slow. Lots of introductions means that it takes forever to get to the meat of the game. The balance of combat, exploration, alchemy is a tough one to get right, as this game is trying to do it all. The whole package feels like giant to do list, which just doesn't appeal to me as it feels too much like work to be fun. I can see the charm here, but just can't get into it. I still have at least four more of these to try, too.



Knytt Underground

Knytt Underground is a pretty curious little adventure game. The main character Mi can't talk directly, so other characters make inferences for her, though you can hear her thoughts about the situations. As for the game itself, you get to explore around a large, seemingly nonlinear world trying to unlock new areas. Robots with lasers are about all you have to watch out for as far as dangers go. Progression is very self-paced, which can be a bit of a struggle. While intriguing, the lack of structure didn't work for me at this moment. I'd like to be directed a little bit more than Knytt Underground wants to do.



Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~

This is a visual novel about people getting stuck in an MMO where if you die in the game you die in real life, you say? This theme seems like something overused in gaming these days, but Period: Cube ~Shackles of Amadeus~ does at least start off quick and makes it interesting. Having little experience with otome games doesn't mean that I can't tell what's going on here. My character is soon found to be the almighty and has demons and angels MMO players fighting over her. I'm not a fan of either of the early suitors, so I'll have to see if things get better from here. Period: Cube at least seems fairly well paced, so if it keeps it up I might see this one through.



SD Gundam G Generation Genesis

I imported the Asian English version of SD Gundam G Generation Genesis, a two card Vita game, so despite not knowing anything about Gundam series I figured I'd give it a shot. Wow, this is overwhelming as far as content goes. There are a ton of Gundam stories, so if you are a fan then this is for you. The tactical RPG combat is pretty basic, but fun enough. There's a lot of story and dialogue to fill in the gaps and I don't get any of it. This seems like it could be a lot of fun for fans, but the content just isn't something that I connect with and the combat is a little too simple to be engaging without another hook.



Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

Since the Vita version of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is no longer available on PSN, I popped open my physical copy to check it out. It's a pretty basic 2D fighter with lots of characters to choose from, but it felt slow and didn't control super responsively, so I put it down pretty quickly. Without a cool story mode like Mortal Kombat or Injustice, I find most fighters too mindless to play single player these days. It's also a shame that you can't take screenshots in the game. That's just a pet peeve of mine.



Stranger of Sword City Revisited

Oh hey, Stranger of Sword City Revisited is just like the original, but with a lot of new options to make it friendlier. If you want to play one of these games this is the one to get for sure, but it doesn't change enough to change my option of the original. At least this was easy to get through.



Toukiden: The Age of Demons

Yeah, Toukiden: The Age of Demons is the same game with the same intro as Toukiden: Kiwami. No need to play any more than that since I've already played the more complete version. That was easy!



While I still have quite a few visual novels and RPGs to go, it is nice to have a few of them out of the way. I'm getting closer to finishing these up, but I still have plans to keep this going after I have caught up, so that's exciting to me. I might as well keep having fun, right?

Today's To Plays: 12
Current Remaining To Plays: 47