Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Shadow of the Colossus: bringing down the knight

I have owned this on the PS2, in a lovely art set with postcards, and twice on the PS3: once on a disc alongside Ico, and once digitally.  I have owned this on the PS4 on disc, bought for a birthday.  I also acquired it when it was given away with PS+.

There are some games I own many copies of because they are classics that I wish to enjoy in many places.  Sonic and Sonic 2 are the obvious examples; Populous the Beginning on PS, PC CD-ROM, and now GOG; Journey; Peggle.  This is not one of those games.  I own this many times because I keep promising myself that I will play it.

And now I have.

The game is breathtaking in its scale, particularly when you consider its PS2 origins.  The world feels huge and intricate, and while not up to GTA3 levels of detail it feels alive.  There is a real sense of belonging and duty, to keep the world functioning, and to save the life of the girl you bring to the temple at the start.  It also feels oppressive, with you being commanded by an unseen deity to go and vanquish the giants that inhabit the land.

Off we pop, then.

Given the size of the world, luckily you have a horse to ride to get you to the far off places quickly.  The horse is well coded, responding to your commands with a bit of leeway to allow for animal eccentricity.  I found quite quickly that you can lean off the horse to fire arrows or use your sword while the horse carries on running, though as soon as you start to aim the horse's path changes.  Not sure I'll use that much.

Other than a light game of exploring the world, with some lizards that seem to increase your stamina bar and some fruit that increases your energy, the main aim is to find and defeat large monsters - seemingly half living, half stone - by climbing up them and reaching a glowing area which you then repeatedly stab until the colossus dies.  They don't like being stabbed, so you have to stop stabbing them from time to time to hold on as they shake and try to dislodge you.  After a lot of stabbing the monster collapses, you get transported back to the central temple, and repeat.

I have, so far, stabbed three monsters, and they have been varied and clever.  I tried to stab the fourth but so far haven't worked out how to climb up it.  Something to ponder.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

James Bond 007: invisible oil rigs

Loading up James Bond 007 on the Atari 5200, you see an exciting opening sequence, announcing you are about to play Diamonds are Forever.  This is, apparently, one of four films represented in the game.

Rather than controlling Bond, you control his car. It's unclear exactly which car it is, but best guesses are that it's the Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me.  With an added jump function.

The game starts with you driving through the desert, with some odd craft dropping bombs in front of you.  You have to jump over the holes created, which is difficult because your car's jump isn't long enough to do so without swerving across the screen at the same time. You can fire, alternating between one bullet that goes up at a 30-degree angle and something that lands on the floor in front of you, but these don't seem to affect the green craft.

After a while you get to the sea, and you can dive under the waves or, somehow, jump above them. Here the second bullet makes sense, becoming a difficult-to-judge depth charge.  Frogmen fire bullets at you, and you have to avoid these, as well as the green craft's bombs, and try to sheet diamonds in the sky using your diagonal bullets.

As well as giving you points, shooting the diamonds makes the sky flash, which is crucial because it reveals the locations of oil platforms, which otherwise are black on a black background.  If you don't see them, you crash into them and die.  I successfully avoided five or six of these once, before getting worried I was missing something.

I was, indeed.  Reading the manual, I found out I was supposed to land on one of these oil platforms (a brief reminder that touching the platforms kills you in any other situation) to progress to the next level.  So, I worked through the first level again, and landed on the first oil platform.  Much easier.  This then took me to the second level - The Spy Who Loved Me.

Which wasn't much different to the first.  This time there were rockets that sometimes launched from the sea bed (and sometimes didn't), and boats you had to submerge under (and not land on).

Having read the manual, I knew the aim was to get to the end and rescue Anya Amasova.  To do this, it seems, you have to bomb the facility where she is hiding and pick up the escape pod.  Got that first time.

And then onto Moonraker, where the aim is apparently to shoot down three spinning satellites. These satellites move at about 57,291mph across the screen, and I didn't manage to shoot down a single one before being killed by odd green space shuttles and mines laid by submarines.  Had I paid £30 for this back in 1984, I may have persisted … but I now have better things to be doing.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Planet Smashers: no planets in sight

By 1990, the concept of scrolling shooters was well established, and the new Mega Drive had some excellent examples available at (and shortly after) launch.  There had been a number of conversions of R-Type to home computers and consoles.  People knew how to make shooters exciting.

On first impressions, Planet Smashers is not exciting.  A sparse backdrop (a few scrolling stars) is not a promising start, and the graphics are nothing special - even when considering the capabilities of the 7800.  Your ship is various shades of grey with a blue cockpit, enemy ships are mainly grey, your status bar is grey.  Grey.

The game gets a bit deeper than "BLAST ALIENS" though.  In order to progress through the stages, you have to collect warp capsules, which enemies drop at random.  These capsules are one main colour, which you can change by shooting them.  You have to collect them in the right order to complete the warp sequence, and you will only know of that order by collecting random colours and seeing if the three warp boxes at the bottom left flash.

This takes quite a bit of concentration - and it's likely that you'll be killed by a wayward shot while watching for the flashing signal.  Avoiding the bullets and the suicidal enemies takes some skill.

After collecting the three warp colours, and after the existing enemies have scrolled off the screen (creating an odd pause which I couldn't figure out for quite some time), the boss appears.  The first boss resembles a Dreamcast or original Xbox controller in some ways.

It is seemingly impossible to avoid all the bullets coming from the boss, so to get past this stage you will need a lot of luck, a lot of lives, or both.  I had both only once, and progressed on to the next part - where you start again, with different warp colours.

It's not a bad game, as such, but sitting here in 2020 there are countless other, better, games you could play instead.  Had this come out in 1986, it would be an interesting stage of evolution of the vertical shooter.  As it is, it's just a bit dull.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Skies of Arcadia: a difficult start

I bought Skies of Arcadia for the Dreamcast (for £5 when HMV was clearing its stock).  I bought Skies of Arcadia Legends for the Gamecube (for about the same when Game was clearing its stock).  I have never played either.

But now, with the release of ReDream, a clean and simple Dreamcast emulator, and a few spare hours with my laptop in a Taiwan hotel, I have at least started it.  There are a few graphical effects on the screen which wouldn't be there if I were playing on my Dreamcast, but at the same time I wouldn't have such a clean picture ... and in fact I wouldn't be playing it at all.

The game isn't exactly the quickest to start, with cutscene after cutscene introducing the cast and situation.  The characters are well designed, if not immediately likeable, and there's a good world that feels ready to be explored.

But when the game starts properly, it's just all a bit slow.  You have to traverse long distances (across admittedly beautiful scenery) to find the next checkpoint, and it feels very linear and scripted.  I'm sure that the game will eventually open out, but after an hour I had only just landed the ship, after a few easy battles, and had managed to get stuck in a cupboard.

This is a problem I have with most JRPGs, to be fair, and as I get older and I have less free time it becomes ever more noticeable.  While this is a game I'd like to play more of, I suspect that realistically I can expect to forget about it now and have to replay the first part again in the future.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: completed!

It has been a long time since I have written on this blog, and that is largely down to one game - Breath of the Wild.

I completed this last November, after around 160 hours of playing.  I would frequently turn the game on with every intention of heading for the next waypoint, but then get distracted by a side quest as I passed some stables.  I'd notice something odd from the top of a mountain; I'd see an opportunity to fight a few enemies to collect some loot; I'd notice a shooting star in the sky and chase it.

The freedom that game gives you - even allowing you to jump straight to the end boss once you're out of the initial area - is a great strength but also a possible weakness.  I didn't want the game to end, knowing there was so much left to see (I had found 112 of the 120 shrines by the end), and it was only with a significant mental push that I finally went to meet with Ganon.

And even that went wrong.  I hadn't appreciated that journeying to Ganon would involve a long trek through the grounds of Hyrule Castle, and my route took me into a library where I found some recipes that someone in Riverside Stable had asked me for.  So, of course, I had to return there before going back in to the castle.

The interior was a masterpiece of artistic design.  What would a castle look like after being neglected for a hundred years, used as a home for monsters? 

Dark, dingy and claustrophobic.  Even getting outside didn't help, since the drifting ashes in the air and hiding guardians meant the atmosphere remained tense.  I used my gale powers to drift ever higher, and entered the tower from a top window, leading to a nervous descent inside.  I needn't have worried; Ganon had become complacent.

So, if I completed this back in November, why have I not written about it until now?  Partially because I have been playing other things on my commute, but partially because I couldn't find the words to do this game justice.  It has been hailed as one of the greatest games of all time, and I cannot argue with that.  Many people have written far more eloquently than I would be able to, and yet no article has fully captured just how amazing it is.

It's daft to give up a blog like this because of a perception of language inadequacy, though.  So instead I'll sum Breath of the Wild up in a single word, before moving on.


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.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Gravity Rush: completed!

(First drafted 27 February 2017)

It was pretty straightforward from the underground section back to the top; the greatest difficulty I had was interpreting the map of the underground system, with one mission causing real problems until I realised the flower at the North of the map was actually an actual island.

I'd completed many sidequests before this point, and as a result when I got back up there was little to do except progress to the end of the game.  There was an odd bit where I was transported to some sort of virtual world, and then tying up a story where I found out that an old couple had died ...

... but my biggest concern was where all the children from underground had disappeared to.  I was expecting them all to suddenly appear at the end boss and help out, but I won't spoil what actually happened other than to remark how frustrating yet beautiful the last sections of the game were.

Maybe the extended break in the middle of the game did it some good in that I never felt the story was outstaying its welcome - there are a large number of time challenges and so on that I've not completed, but I have no desire to do so.

It does pose me with a conundrum, though.  I would (now) happily pay for this game given the amount of enjoyment I got out of it, but I doubt I would have bought it before playing it - the only reason I did get to play it was that it was given away free.  It seems I will have to work out a better way to discover games that I will like.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: speechless

My posting on here has been limited, largely due 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?