Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Velocity 2X: overcomplicated

I ended up playing this by accident. I had a notification on my PS4 that the game had been updated, and when trying to work out how to get rid of the notification I mistakenly launched the game.  Still, it's widely held as worth playing, so I might as well try it out.

As with all digital titles, my first stop was the instructions screen. Here I was presented with a long list of buttons against a diagram of a controller. Half of them were labelled with words that made little sense. I decided to just pick it up while playing.

I'd advise others to do the same. The first few levels introduce you to controls one by one, to the extent that when I finished playing, having beaten level 12, there's a lot on the controls lost that I've not used yet. And that's the problem - this just feels too complicated.

You have a fire button. You have a boost button. As well as boosting, you can (and have to) teleport using a different button. Controls are different - similar, but different - depending on whether you're inside or outside your ship. You switch between the two modes within levels. On top of that there are bombs and targets and other stuff I've not yet played with.

The main problem with Velocity 2X, though, is that to get to its icon on the PS4 menu I have to scroll past Rocket League.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sonic Generations: hitting walls

Oddly enough, although I wrote at length about my experiences with the 3DS game, I don't appear to have written about the Xbox 360 version which I played at pretty much the same time.  I didn't complete it though; of the nine main stages of the game I had completed both acts of six and played through the 2D parts of the remaining three.  I've no idea why I stopped.

With the launch of TrueSteamAchievements, I was able to register and see which games I own but have hardly played on Steam. Most of them, it turns out. One of the more interesting pages is 'My Easy Achievements' which lists those achievements I've not yet won which most people who own the games in question have. This list was topped by the achievement for completing the first Act in Sonic Generations. I have absolutely no idea when I bought the game on Steam, though I won't have paid much for it.

Anyway, suitably shamed, I loaded the game on my work PC - no Mac version, it seems - and played through both Acts of the Green Hill Zone. That took some effort; the game juddered and slowed in the resolution it recommended, and then looked ugly and in the wrong aspect ratio when I tried to change that. Why was I struggling through it when I had a perfectly accessible console version?

No, I didn't know either. And that, in a roundabout way, is why I loaded up Sonic Generations on my Xbox 360.

I'm glad I did. This is a good Sonic game - particularly the 2D sections, although most of the 3D Acts are fun as well. The only real problem is that the controls feel a little imprecise at times, which I think is down to using the analogue stick (with its length of travel) over digital pads. Turning in the air to avoid spikes can take a fraction of a second too long, and occasionally I can't steer Sonic away from the walls that jut out into the 3D levels.

I played through the second Acts of Crisis City, Rooftop Run, and Planet Wisp, with a number of lives lost due to me trying to hurry through the levels. It's easy to forget that even in the original Mega Drive games you had to take the later stages somewhat slower. There's a boss battle next, but first I've got to unlock it by completing three challenges - special requirements within existing levels. What a faff. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Rocket League: an epic match

Yes, I have a PS4.  I've not played on it too much yet - this three-month-old baby is less accommodating to gaming than the last one - but what I have played has been largely split between FIFA 16 and Rocket League.  The latter is a sort of football game, or maybe more hockey, where you use cars to hit a ball into your opponents' goal.  Your cars can jump, boost, and even fly if you use the booster rockets right.

Last night I had an epic match.  My team quickly fell to 3-0 down, partially due to a player dropping out and being replaced, and partially because we were all over the place.  With two minutes left on the clock, someone scored one back, then I scored a second.  Time ticking down, until I finally equalised with three seconds left on the clock.  Into overtime, and the ball went back and forth on the pitch until finally we scored and won.

The PS4 has a pretty nifty function where you can record your last 15 minutes gaming.  So I can show you the match in full.  Enjoy!

Switchblade: exploring the caves

Switchblade was always touted as one of the great games on the GX4000, using the power of the console over the standard CPC version and benefiting from instant loading.  Given the size of the map, that's not surprising; the disk version certainly seems to chug regularly.  Despite having owned it for many years, I've never given it a proper go beyond making sure that the cartridge worked.  Over the Christmas holidays I had some time to rectify that.

The first thing I was surprised about was the accuracy of controls. When playing many 8-bit games, there's a noticeable lag in inputs, and games are often designed to allow for this.  Some games did this better than others - Titus the Fox, for example, allowed a bit of leeway in jumping.  That's not the case here, but the response to inputs is instant, making you feel much more in control.

The second thing I noticed, after playing for a while, is how complex the game is.  It's packed with puzzles, in terms of finding new rooms, finding ways to attack enemies without taking damage, and exploration.  I originally thought that the fact that enemies can't attack you while you're standing on a crate was a limitation of the game, but in many cases it's the very basis of the puzzle.

That's not to say that the game isn't an action-based title.  I've not completed it yet, because the five lives you start with don't last long when you're being attacked.  I shall try again, though - each time I play I get a bit further.  I may need map paper soon though ...

Meanwhile, I loaded up an emulator to take some screenshots, and took the opportunity to compare the GX4000 game to the CPC version.  As I said above, the disk version seems to chug a bit more, which may be loading, but the main difference is the visuals.  Look at them, it's an astounding change.

(GX4000 is the top, standard CPC is the bottom.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Stanley Parable: completed!

The Stanley Parable is an odd narrative game, where you are effectively given instructions by the narrator.  As an office worker, you suddenly realise that everyone else has disappeared, and it feels that the point of the game is to understand why.  If it were a traditional game, that would be the case.

The game is most fun, or rather funny, when not following instructions.  I didn't know that, of course, and my first play through I did what the narrator told me was going to happen, with one exception - I went down a corridor marked as certain death, and only turned around at the end when I realised they weren't joking.

I found the boss's office, I found the secret passageway, I went through and completed the game.  That wasn't the end, though.

On my second game, I turned left when I was told right, and ended up backstage.  I found myself eventually in some sort of museum with maps of the game and concept sketches.  I tried again and the game was reset by the narrator.  I found an odd subgame where I was pretending to be at home with a mannequin.

I saw a lot of office buildings and the central control room, many times.

I escaped a few times.

I got trapped in a room once, when the narrator decided that he was fed up with my excursions and told me that I had won the game.

I was given a helpful hint on where to go.

And I don't think I've seen it all yet, but it'll have to wait for another day.  I suspect that I shall put this on the TV and show Justine at some point, and maybe she'll want to experiment as well.

I wonder which ending she'll get.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Halo Anniversary: completed!

Amusingly, as I travelled to work this morning I was reminded that I completed Halo 2 eight years ago today.  And today I have completed the updated original game.

I have a soft spot for the original Halo.  When I first played through it, the story wasn't massively inspiring, but the gameplay was and as I progressed through the game I got interested with the overall objectives.  Until, that is, I got to the Library, and the flood, which seemed to go on forever and really was pretty dull.  But after escaping from the library and backtracking through previous levels, watching the covenant fight the flood, I felt a sense of urgency and importance which was compounded by the final escape run.  I said I might play it again some time.

And, you know what, I did.  I played through the whole game again a year or so later, and of course played multiplayer a few times when people visited.  Each of the levels, while part of the narrative, stands up well as a separate game.  And then when Halo Anniversary was released, it seemed an ideal time to go back to it.  Unfortunately it came at a time when I'd just finished ODST and started Reach, and it appears that I stopped playing after the Pillar of Autumn.  With a renewed freshness for the game, I decided to play it again.

The thing about Halo Anniversary is that it looks how you remember the original game to look.  For example, I remember this:

I don't remember this:

 But the second picture is what the original game actually looks like.  Plain, muddy, dark.

The needler has always been pink, hasn't it?

Lot of dead spartans in a co-op mode, looking either rugged or metallic depending on when you play the game.

Lush scenery, or foggy closeness.

At least the light bridge is the same.

One of the very cool things about remasters such as this is the ability to switch between original and new graphics at will.  This isn't quite as slick as the Monkey Island remake, with a fade to black between the styles, but it still works well.

So, anyway, I played through the game to the end.  Blah blah, Library dull, Keyes face, nuclear reactors exploding, drive warthog, escape.  Still a fantastic game.

There are some additions to the game as well.  Borrowed from Halo 3, there are a number of skulls located in hidden areas.  I actually looked up where they were, since there is no way I would ever explore enough to find them, and then went through the game collecting them - sometimes in a co-op game with both controllers in order to get to obscure areas.  It was well worth it, because some of the skulls make the game more fun to play again.  Particularly infinite ammo.  That even makes the Library fun, throwing limitless grenades, especially with the double explosion size also turned on.

I think I may have had my fill now, though.  Time to leave the comforting familiar environments behind, and go back to see where I reached in, er, Halo Reach.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just Cause: just about playable

I have had Just Cause sitting in a variety of places for a while - in the PS2 games box in the loft, in my Steam library on my PC, and on my Xbox 360 shelves - but despite the fact that I've heard it to be great fun and the sequel is an amazing sandbox experience, I've never played it.  Until now.

I decided to play the PS2 version, since my PS3 (which is backwards-compatible) was set up and my 360 wasn't (due to the Wii being plugged in to the component inputs for Luigi's Mansion; yes, it's complicated).  The opening cinematics looked pretty awful, but once I got control of my character I was quite impressed by the scale of the game and its vision.  Parachuting down to the island was a pretty spectacular start, and once I transitioned into running along the beach and stealing a car, I could see that there were clear open-world GTA influences at play.

Unfortunately, the PS2 was a bit underpowered for such a grand vision.  The framerate was, at times, awful - to the extent that I actually had to run away and stand still for the console to catch up.  This was not helped by the controls which were not nearly customisable enough, and felt very imprecise.

That's not to say I didn't have fun.  After a while I was given a grappling hook, with which I could grab onto cars and paraglide behind them.  That was good fun for a while, and useful on a mission where I had to destroy a car and take the place of the now-dead dignitary.  The main issue with the game was a lack of a sense of urgency; you are going to kill a dictator and free the island, sure, but there was little spurring you on to do this, and the game was almost too non-linear with no clear sense of direction.

If I go back to it it would be on the 360, but I may skip to the sequel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alleyway: completed

I remember always wanting to buy Alleyway, as it had an exciting cover evoking memories of Super Breakout, but at the time I didn't have a Game Boy.  By the time I got a handheld of my own (excluding my Mum's Game Gear, that would be the Game Boy Colour I bought on launch day from WH Smith in Bristol, just before I caught the coach back to London for the weekend) Alleyway was old news, a relic from a simpler time.

Simple it is.  I finally got a copy for free through the Club Nintendo stars catalogue last month, and I've been playing through it since.  Being able to suspend and resume play is a luxury that the original didn't have, but even with that it's disturbing how easy it is.

I did appreciate the way that levels were varied, with static levels followed by the same levels with progressing blocks, and the same levels with blocks scrolling across the screen.  I found the powerups to be pleasantly understated and useful.  I liked the bonus levels that popped up where the blocks didn't stop your bat and you just had to clear them in the time limit.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that on my first playthrough of the game, I completed it with seven lives left.  I'd have been a bit annoyed about that if I had bought it for £30 back when it first came out.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Luigi's Mansion: completed!

Yes! After only twelve years, it's done!  And people said it was a short game!

In fairness, it is a short game, and not overly difficult, but it's actually significantly longer than, say, the single-player components of most Call of Duty games.  It's infinitely more charming and fun.  Overall, the game took me about 9 hours to complete, and that was including a bit near the end where I ran around the whole house trying to find the last few boos.  I had collected most of them through normal play, but there were some hidden in Level 1 rooms which I had completed before acquiring the scanner.

The game continued to be inventive, the the last moment.  Puzzles were rare and because of this they threw me - having to freeze a stream to cross it was used in only one place, and was an elegant way to prevent early progress.  Although the game was actually very linear, it didn't feel like it.

The final boss battle was the hardest part of the game by far.  I wasn't expecting Bowser ...

... but it wasn't him, anyway.  It took me a couple of attempts, but finally he was defeated (with me on minimal health).  I actually remembered to capture it on my video box for once.

So, game completed and Luigi happy for a while.  Having seen what he went through, I'm not surprised he's so aggressive in Mario Kart 8.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Luigi's Mansion: a moment of revellry

The game is - necessarily - dark and a bit spooky.  Which made this part, where you start various instruments playing themselves, a welcome break.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Luigi's Mansion: a competition I never entered

Because I was 12 years too late.

I didn't buy this at the Gamecube launch, opting instead for Super Monkey Ball and Star Wars Rogue Leader. I bought it a few years ago at a car boot sale, and finally I've started to play it.

And it's marvellous. The gameplay is a little dated now, granted, and the controls are taking a bit of getting used to - in particular, the torch control doesn't shine in the direction you point the C-stick, but rather rotates left and right and points up and down; combined with the fixed camera position it makes the frantic ghost catching more difficult than it should otherwise be. Pointing the torch or vacuum up and down seems a little pointless as well. Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that the controls on Luigi's Ghost Mansion in Nintendoland are more like a twin-stick shooter.

But control grumbles aside, it remains very playable. It is a relatively little game, but as with all Mario games it is constantly innovative. You never feel like you've played a section before, and even when the enemies repeat they are presented in a new way. For example, toward the end of my play session I went into a room where the standard enemies were invisible and only showed in the mirror that ran the length of the room.

I've completed the first area now, and well through the second. Apparently the game lasts for about seven hours - which is probably the same as a Call of Duty campaign. Probably less blood.