Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sonic Mania: pause for another game

At the end of the second zone, you are expecting a boss battle.

You get, instead, this.


This is a marvellous game.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Road Rash III: pixels

I played Road Rash a lot when I was younger, and Road Rash II about ten times more than that.  I have played both recently, and can quickly get back into the rhythm of the first few races - snaking through the back markers, taking the chain from Viper, avoiding Natasha, and rolling out to the front before the finish line.  The low framerate is slightly jarring, but the games still look clean and fresh.

Despite my love for the second game, I never bought Road Rash III, largely due to middling reviews.  Having now played it, I can see why.  It's still a good game, but the differences from Road Rash II are minimal, with slightly more varied locales and more weapons (which you don't really get to experience, since you carry a weapon from race to race and so effectively get stuck with the first one you grab forever).  The biggest change is in visuals, with the artists moving away from clean pixel art to more photorealistic sprites.



And it just makes the game look messy.  The main character - the one you're looking at half the time - looks washed out and indistinct ... and even more so when you upgrade your bike and find that you no longer have the coloured band on your clothes.


(Pictured on the snow stage just to doubly emphasise the point).

It's still a good game, don't get me wrong.  The problem is that the second game was pretty much perfect, so all the changes they implemented - and of course they had to implement changes to be able to sell a sequel - make things worse.  Muddier graphics.  More complicated bike upgrade screens.  Less catchy music.  More boring dashboard.  Garish or pixellated backgrounds.



 There is one great addition, though.  An opponent called Scab Boy.


Thursday, August 03, 2017

Retropie: how to access screenshots

I have been playing games on my RetroPie recently, and taking screenshots while doing so.  When trying to access these to put them on the blog, I ran into some difficulties.  I worked it out in the end and thought it worth documenting.

Screenshots are saved by default in ~/.config/retroarch/screenshots/.  Unfortunately if you use samba in Windows or OSX to connect to //RETROPIE, you don't get shown this directory - instead you are shown ~/RetroPie/ which is the folder in which the configuation and ROMs is stored.

You can adjust this, but it makes uploading ROMs more difficult in the future.  Instead, you might as well just copy the screenshots folder into one of the available folders temporarily.


So, SSH into the Pi, and navigate to the retroarch folder:
cd ~/.config/retroarch
Then copy the screenshots folder into the splashscreens folder within the RetroPie structure:
cp -R screenshots/ ~/RetroPie/splashscreens/
Then look at the splashscreens folder through samba in Windows explorer, and the screenshots are all there.  You can then delete them after copying them elsewhere.
 

Friday, July 07, 2017

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: speechless

It's been a long time since I have posted on here, and that's largely down to one game.  I have completed Gravity Rush and Assassin's Creed III, I have tried once again to play Chaotix (and actually progressed a little, for a change), I have started Super Mario World on a new emulator, I have worked my way half the way through Puyo Puyo Tetris.  Each time I have come to the blog to write something about those games, I have left without publishing anything.

The problem is Zelda.  Since I got the Switch on 3 March, I have played it for over 90 hours.  It is a magnificent game and an amazing achievement, and I feel that I should be prioritising it over any other game.  But it is so expansive, and there is so much to do and write about, that it became too daunting to do so.

Daunting to write about, but daunting to play as well.  Due to life, I don't have too much time to play long story-led games at home these days; I get an hour or so in the evening from time to time, and much of that is still taken by Rocket League.  The portable nature of the Switch means that I have been able to devote much more time to Breath of the Wild, and I estimate at least 80 hours of the total have been on the train.  I don't feel rushed playing it, I don't feel constrained in needing to get any part of the game finished.  I get near my stop, press the power button, and the game sleeps until the next journey when I can continue instantly.  It's marvellous.

But yes, the game is daunting.  You start with nothing, learning the basics of combat with tree branches and a pot lid.  After the first, tutorial, section (which probably took a few hours for me because of my desire to explore), you are given few hints on where to go, and as you progress the directions become fewer and fewer.  I visited villages and then found a zora who asked me to find their kingdom.  About ten hours later I did.

It's so easy to get distracted.  Every time you come to a mountain, you feel you need to climb it so you can look around for shrines.  And then you find something interesting in the distance, so you paraglide towards it, and then see a shrine that was previously hidden so you divert to that.  Once you have completed that shrine, you intend to go and find the interesting landmark, but then you find a pile of metal stones which you're sure are a puzzle to give a korok seed.


And it's so beautiful.  There have been a number of times where I've stopped just to watch the sun go down, or see the moon's reflection on a lake.  I will stand at the top of a hill and roll bombs don into an enemy encampment for twenty minutes not just because it's safer than running in with sword drawn, but also because the fog swirls around in a very pleasing way.




I have taken hundreds of screenshots, and posted some to Twitter, but I'm aware that there are others who read this blog who wouldn't want the game spoilt for them.  And everyone should play this game; it is one of the best of all time.

I'm quite a way through it now.  I have found around 70 shines and completed 66 of them - the ones I have left have been the major tests of strength, which I don't feel ready for yet. I have completed three divine beasts (the elephant, bird and camel, in that order), have found a giant horse and a white horse, have retrieved the legendary sword, and have found three giant skeletons.  I have teleported off Eventide Island twice.  I am planning to now head to Death Mountain, but when I tried to approach it from the North East I burst into flames so I'm not sure how to get resistance to that.  I'll try approaching from the South instead.


Oh, but hang on, what's that?

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.