Monday, February 13, 2017

Micro Machines: a lack of momentum

I have played a lot of Micro Machines in the past, mainly on the Mega Drive, and mainly with friends.  I did complete the single-player games in both MM and MM2, but they weren't too tricky when compared to trying to keep ahead of Kieron and John.  Revisiting them on emulators reveals them to still be tightly controlled, fun games.

This isn't a blog post about them.

The NES game isn't as pretty, obviously, but the graphics are functional and clear.  It's obvious which car (or other vehicle) is yours, and the sprites are well designed to help you with navigating.  It felt that there were fewer directions than the Mega Drive game, but I'm not sure if that was actually the case.

But it does feel more clunky, and there's a definite lag in controls - and that's not due to playing on an emulator, unless it's very specific to one game.  The cars have the wrong momentum, they don't turn as quickly, and collisions are more punishing.

The difference in handling is most evident on the time trial stages, which I found the most difficult.  The time constraints were pretty tough and it took me a few tries to succeed.  Nothing was too difficult though, and I completed about half the trophy cabinet before getting a bit frustrated by how different it felt to the Mega Drive games.  I think I'd prefer to play them instead.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sonic the Hedgehog 2: completed!

Unlike the first game, I have previously completed the 8-bit Sonic 2, although on the Game Gear which made it rather more tricky.  The first boss, for example, rolls balls down a slope in an effort to hit Sonic, and on the Master System you have plenty of time to react, whereas the Game Gear's limited window means balls appear all too suddenly.

On the Mega Drive, there was a clear progression to the second game.  You lost some of the pureness of the platforming, yes, and the spin dash meant that there were fewer momentum-based puzzles, but the variety in stages, brightened colour palette, and more imaginative boss battles meant that Sonic 2 was definitely the better game.  On the Master System, I'm not sure that's the case.

At the time, it probably was.  Sonic's abilities have increased massively, with vehicles, the ability to skip across water, and hidden routes.  The problem is that when revisiting it many years later, a lot of this just seems a bit gimmicky.

It is almost as if the game's coders were more interested in seeing what they could cram in to create set pieces, and hide stuff away, that they forgot to make the main linear route in the game as good as it could have been.

That's not to say it's a bad game; far from it.  There are some objective improvements, like the way that Sonic can recapture at least one ring after being hit, and the controls are a little tightened up - even if only marginally (I had to go back and play Sonics 1 and 2 in quick succession to tell the difference).  Also, like the Mega Drive games, the added variety and colour in stages is welcome, even without the gimmicky bits.

No, it makes no sense to me how Sonic can float in a bubble.

It's a game that sits well in a list of "best Master System games", and maybe near the bottom of a "best platform games ever" list.  But to pretend it's as good as the Mega Drive games is just wrong.

For a start, the best games ever should never have a section in them which can only be accomplished by trial and error - and yet in the last few stages, Sonic 2 expects you to memorise a sequence of directional presses to move you along the correct pipes, which you can only work out by constantly going wrong, since the direction of the entrance and the overall direction of the pipe are not connected.  This led to many deaths (and many lost rings).

Good game, would mostly recommend.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Gravity Rush: a long time coming

I got Gravity Rush when it was free on PS+, and it was one of the first games I played on my Vita when I got it for Christmas in 2013.  However, with the mass of games I got with the system, and the more complicated nature of the game, it got left behind.

And then last year, on returning to work, I decided to play it again.  I completed a few more chapters, but was utterly lost and couldn't work out the controls to feel like I knew what I was doing.

So, obviously, the best thing to do is to leave it a couple of years and try again.  And this time it's stuck.

When I left the game back in 2015, I couldn't work out where I needed to go to progress.  I must have missed the legend on the map, and the bright red marker.  I flew around for a bit, and then jumped on a train to go to a new area - and as I stood on top of the train, the colour palette shifting in the background, something clicked about what I was trying to do.  The story didn't pull me in before, but the fact that parts of the town are missing and people's loved ones have disappeared can't be ignored.  I'll get them all back.

I just wish it was a little easier.  The controls feel quite clunky - but that may be by design, since the idea of gravity shifting is that you are just falling in a different direction.  Not much finesse there.  After a bit of experimentation I found the upgrades menu, which allowed me to extend the amount of time Kat can fly for, and improved the power of her kicks.  This, combined with learning the gravity kicks and other special moves, has turned this from a game I was struggling with to one I'm enjoying.

It's still a little cringeworthy in places; the fact that the entire town seems to be trying to hit on Kat is constantly annoying.  There are a lot of elements to the story which seem disjointed - a couple who seem to be travelling in time, a creator who sends Kat to the rift plains to bring back the town, the nevi who appear from nowhere, another gravity shifter called Raven who seems to be rather antagonistic, the police force and a detective called Sid who seem to be a bit incompetent.

And someone or something called Alias, who wants to steal power gems and has some sort of control over the nevi.

The fight with Alias was a bit of an anticlimax, actually.  He was built up as the main enemy, very mysterious behind a mask, but the game didn't end with his defeat.  A good thing, probably, because otherwise that would have been a very short game with many things unresolved - and with probably the worst end-game boss battle ever.

Alias throws red blobs at you, and they're difficult to evade.  It's best to hide behind a building, and then pop out and use a special move that lobs rocks at enemies.  But that recharges really slowly, so the majority of the boss fight is spent standing still and hiding.

And hearing him say that, over and over again.

I could have taken more risks, with more direct attacks and getting closer, but it didn't seem worth it.

Anyway, Alias defeated, and with the big tall tower in place, I explored some more.  The draw distance is cleverly disguised with the art style - you have to go to some extremes to get all the building faded out though.

My exploration found a lady looking over the edge of the city, saying she had dropped the last letter from her boyfriend down there.  I went down to pick it up ... and went down and down and down.  Half way down I met Raven again, who tried to stop me - but failed.

Now I'm in some sort of little village, in a cage.  No sign of a letter.  Hmm.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Sonic the Hedgehog: completed!

Do you know what? I'd never actually completed the first Sonic game on the Master System, before now.  I could have sworn I had, but beyond the first few zones I realised that it was uncharted territory; I'm not sure I've ever even beaten the Jungle Zone boss.

Sonic on the Master System is a great game.  It's not as good as the first Mega Drive game, and Sonic's movement is a little floaty and imprecise, but the levels are designed well around the character and movement.  There are some big changes to gameplay, such as the ability to collect rings after you've been hit, and the collision detection seems a little off as well.

The levels are similar, but not identical to the Mega Drive game.  The fist two levels - Green Hill and Bridge - are a bit too samey, but after that the scenery changes, sometimes aping the Mega Drive's levels (with very close similarity to the Labyrinth Zone and the Scrap Brain Zone), and sometimes with a completely separate feel (the Jungle Zone has never been revisited, as far as I'm aware).

The special stages on the Mega Drive were where the hardware was used to maximum effect, and it's here that the Master System is a bit of a let down.  Built around different coloured springs, but with the game moving a little too fast to be able to judge where you're landing, this felt too much like a random mess - more so than the Spring Yard Zone or Casino Night Zone, and even more so than Sonic Spinball.

Some of the bosses seemed overly simplistic, while some were a little more tricky.   The Jungle Zone boss was one of the more tricky ones, but not because of his movements, more the slightly clunky jump that Sonic had from the angled platforms at each end.

 Some of the later stages worked really well, particularly those that forced Sonic to slow down - maybe belying the fact that the Master System wasn't built for Sonic's usual speed.  With a slower tempo, the level design was massively changed with many more rates ad hidden parts, and the jumps made more difficult.  Lightning flashed around the level making Sonic wait for it to clear.  This was, perhaps, my favourite level - the Sky Base Zone had some similarity at times to the Wing Fortress Zone at times.

And it all ended with a pretty disappointing boss fight.  Standing on the far left of the screen, as below, nothing could hit Sonic, meaning he could just wait for the electric barrier to drop and dash over to hit the glass tube.  A few hits later, and he was down.

No, I didn't collect all the chaos emeralds.  Yes, I probably will one day.  Yes, I'm counting this as completed.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Assassin's Creed Bloodlines: completed!

While still bogged down in the quest to avoid quests in ACIII, and with a newly-charged Vita downloading games I had purchased on the webstore and forgotten about, I came across Assassin's Creed Bloodlines, a PSP game I bought for about £2 in a sale a while ago.  Set between the original AC and ACII, it got middling reviews at the time of release, and I can understand why - on first impressions, it's trying to be a fully-fledged AC game, and releasing alongside the amazing ACII won't have done it any favours.

But step back from it for a bit and you realise that it's actually far better than it appears.  Gone are the open, sprawling maps, replaced with small, discrete areas.  Gone are the countless distractions, and the missions are a lot shorter (albeit often with multiple parts).  Unlike the original game, Bloodlines is far more linear, not requiring multiple side missions before approaching the main target.  This is a game designed for mobile playing, where there is no requirement for you to remember your objectives for hours on end.  It may be driven by the limitations of the hardware, but the result works really well.

That's not to say there aren't frustrations.  The combat is a bit clunky, especially going straight from ACIII, and the camera frequently served to frustrate this by hiding the person attacking.  It is very easy to win the fights, simply by holding the right trigger (the block button) and countering, with a few exceptions of boss battles.  The combat serves only as an annoyance, and I was frequently trying my best to avoid it by sneaking around the scenery.  This didn't always work, particularly when I accidentally jumped off a ledge onto a guard's head - and there's no air assassination here.

What was more annoying was when there was no alternative but to fight.  After each boss battle, he area was swamped with soldiers who would attack before I could run away.  In addition, there were often soldiers standing guard outside the entrance to key rooms, and without the distraction tools available in later games I just had to massacre them.

I may be going a little overboard though.  The combat was a minor annoyance, and the game anything but.  There was a reasonably involved story, with Altaïr searching for the Templar archive where they keep lots of exciting mystery stuff.  He tracks it down to Cyprus, which is where the game is set.  Throughout the game, Maria (who has a very modern middle-class English accent) is slowly won over to the Assassins, as she sees what the Templars plan.  There's enough tension to keep playing.

But it's not a long game. It's taken me a couple of weeks of commuting to finish it, and that includes a lot of unnecessary battles and diversions.  Easily worth £2 though.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Fat Princess: Piece of Cake: not what I was expecting

I read a recent email from Sony which told me that Fat Princess: Piece of Cake was closing down its servers at the start of next year.  This was bad news, since Fat Princess is a game series I always liked the sound of, and I wanted to try it out - and a free version of the game is a good way to do so.

So I resolved to download it, but that meant finding my Vita, hoping it still held a charge, registering a new device password on Sony's 2FA system, and so on.  It all worked, amazingly.  I loaded up the game, ready to carry the fat princess around, to find that things weren't as I was expecting.

This isn't a strategy game or a platform game or anything like I believed Fat Princess to be.  This is a match-three game, with microtransactions all over the place and a slow learning curve.

But you know, it's actually a really good match-three game.  There's a lot of strategy in choosing which gems you are matching - choose red to make the swordsman hit one member of the opposing front row, yellow for the musket to shoot the entire front row (with lower damage), orange to drop a bomb on the first two rows, blue to restore health, purple to power up the princess (who acts like a smart bomb), and green to collect gems to upgrade your characters.

Get four in a row and you get an extra turn, and a sparkly gem which turns all surrounding gems the same colour when matched.  Get five in a row and you get a wildcard which erases all of a particular type.  Create combos (or 'cascades') and moves follow each other.

There have been a couple of tricky levels so far, normally with overpowered bosses, but I'm made my way through Cake Cove and ave completed the weekly levels a few times.  I will probably come back to this from time to time ... but probably won't spend money on it.

And I still need to try Fat Princess.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Assassin's Creed III: an expanding map

Now, this is the Assassin's Creed I recognise.  A map filling with icons to distract me from the main quest, a feeling of being overwhelmed and not understanding half the gameplay mechanics.  It looks as if I can build up my homestead with people sympathetic to my cause; there are pages of books flying around and random feathers; there are viewpoints and animal pawprint missions (?) and message delivery missions and and and.

It was so much easier when I was an eagle.

So, as always, I've started off by ignoring the story and trying to scale all the viewpoints in order to unlock the map.  What is quite interesting, though, is that I have a much lower drive to get the rest of the side missions completed when I don't have the achievements or trophies to chase.  I'm happy to see the pages disappear into the distance, not chasing them like those awful dynamic orbs in Crackdown 2.  I'm far more likely to head for the exclamation mark to continue the story.  This is shaking off years of videogame training, where sidequests may have been optional but they always made progression easier; in Assassin's Creed the benefits you get are marginal at best.

But it's still a bit overwhelming.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pokémon X: breezing through the gyms

Still playing this, but I feel my pokémon may be too powered up now since I've taken the last two gyms with one-hit-kills, and I struggle to capture any wild pokémon without making them faint.  I may need to try to rush through the story a bit.

I have settled on a great team though:

  • Delphox, now level 54, with fire moves
  • Blastoise, level 51, with surf and strength
  • Pidgeot, level 51, a variety of flying and dragon moves
  • Pikachu, level 50, electrified up
  • Amaura, level 48, with ice and fighting moves
  • Lucario, level 46, with ghost and fighting
I've grown a bit too attached to them all, which doesn't bode well for finding legendaries ...

Friday, November 18, 2016

Assassin's Creed III: an unexpected twist

Hang on, he was a Templar?

OK, the clues were there: generally unlikable; cold and calculating; trying to find things rather than prevent them.  The characterisation was painfully thin, once the twist was revealed. But it's made me quite unhappy that I have aided the wrong side for three chapters of the game.

And then his friend did this.

Playing as a kid for a chapter seemed odd, particularly because it seemed so insignificant. I suppose the idea was to set off the carefree nature of childhood against the pain of loss, but it just felt a bit stilted. Still, at least I know who I'm playing as now, and it looks like the rest of the game is going to have some spectacular scenery.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Assassin's Creed III: an unlikable toff

Progressing with the series, a change of time period, a change of location, and a change of console.  I'm not sure if the latter is a good idea or not, because the combat controls have changed a lot from previous games, and I'm not sure if this is a change due to moving away from the Xbox 360, or if all versions have the same changes.  I assume it's the latter, and that means the change is a good one since I now how a larger map available to me (although not separately zoomable, which is annoying).

I seem to remember Assassin's Creed Revelations ended with Desmond being trapped in the Animus, but here he is, walking around with his friends, going to the pub and the greyhound races, having a picnic in the local park, watching the X-Factor and eating crisps.  Well, he's in the real world anyway.  There was a very brief explanation of him getting out, but it felt pretty tacked on.

Oh, and his dad was there as well.  I don't remember his dad from before.  Have I missed something?

Anyway, the big glowy ball of wonder opened a door, and the animus was set up inside a big cave system with no obvious food supply.  The target avatar this time was Haytham Kenway, a British man sent over to the US at the time of colonisation.  The first mission, however, was set in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (or, rather, the Theatre Royal as it was then known).  I was tempted to watch the play, but I suspect it would have repeated quite quickly.

I quite liked the effects of the world being built around you as you walked through the courtyard.

After assassinating in the theatre, I was sent to the US, and several missions aboard a boat.  It was only on arrival in America that the title screen appeared, over an hour into the game.

I don't like Haytham.  He is a calculating, mean, simplistic idiot who has no morality or ethics.  I didn't want to do half of the stuff he was meant to, particularly because it was largely directed against British soldiers who were innocent of malicious schemes.  That wasn't the only reason I struggled though; as mentioned above the controls have changed significantly, with aiming and combat 'simplified'.  There is no longer the need to lock on in hand-to-and combat, but this means you lose some control of where to direct your attacks.  Shooting is also much more difficult.

Assassin's Creed games were never about the shooting, though, so I wasn't too worried about that.  Except I should have been, because a few missions have almost depended on it.  Sigh.

Anyway, the changes don't stop at the controls.  Yes, there are still viewpoints ...

... and collectables such as note pages, but there is a distinct lack of the empire building from previous games.  No shops to buy, no assassin network to command - or even assassins to call on during missions, except in very restricted ways.  In a way this is good, since my main complaint about Revelations was that there was too much to do.  It may be that the game expands a bit, since previous entries introduced them gradually, but I'm now four hours in and it's still very linear.

It's lovely to look at though, certainly more so than Revelations, and there are some very nice graphical effects around the world.  I am currently hiking around the countryside in the snow trying to find out about the movements of someone called Braddock, and there's a real sense of inertia to movement.  As you walk, you dig furrows in the snow.  Unfortunately not everything is modelled with accurate physics, meaning that if you kill an animal (such as one of the wolves which are constantly attacking you) and then walk around its corpse, you can make it levitate.

Hopefully I will adapt to the controls soon.  The Wii U controller is great for the game though, and I like the larger map, especially for planning movements through lots of guards.