Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Moving day

19 years.  I started this gaming diary 19 years ago, because I wanted to write something. It's fair to say there have been ups and downs in my writing frequency.  It's time for a big change now, though - after a few years of procrastination I'm moving this over to Wordpress.

Blogger has been fine, but there are some limitations that I'm not going to overlook any more.  As I've included more and more screenshots in my posts, the lack of a gallery function has annoyed, and the interaction between my Google account and Blogger files has annoyed me.  It's time for a move.

I won't be updating this blog any more.  See you on the other side.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Metroid Prime Remastered: completed!

The very first time I ever posted to this blog, back in 2005, was to talk about Metroid Prime.  Reading back, my writing skills were a little lacking, with the post being almost entirely descriptive.  It appears that that was my second time of playing the game; the first time I'd got to a "plant boss" which I couldn't defeat, whereas the second time I progressed past this for a couple of hours.  Assuming that the plant boss was Flaahgra, that means that I'd hardly touched the game either time; I'd have managed to explore most of the Chozo Ruins, maybe, but probably barely got to Magmoor Caverns. It's all speculation; I can't remember 19 years ago.

It's all academic now in any case.  About a year ago, Nintendo released an updated version of Metroid Prime for the Switch, and I've been playing through it over the last month.  The game structure itself is identical, but it's had a major graphical revamp and (more importantly) controls have been adjusted.  One thing I did recall about the Gamecube game was the difficulty I had in controlling Samus, not so much in terms of movement but in terms of looking around and finding enemies or points of interest.  The new game allows you to use classic controls, but having tried these against the standard dual stick controls, there's a night and day difference.  I was able to get Samus to do what I wanted, and also look around to see what to do next.

And it was certainly worth looking around.  The original game was known as being good looking on the Gamecube, but this remaster has had a huge amount of effort poured into it which makes the world look astounding.  There's so much detail to see and interact with; at times it seems a shame that the visor obscures your view a little so you lose some of the magnificence.

All the areas you explore are made of small rooms; there are no expansive vistas here.  This is fortunate, given that you need to retrace your steps many times over as you unlock new doors and abilities; somehow they have made the world seem small yet simultaneously very expansive.  This is helped by the variety in the levels - what my son would refer to as biomes - with snow and lava settings giving a diversity to the visuals.

What was interesting was seeing this very modern game with a slightly anachronistic structure.  Defined save points, signposted boss battles, secret pickups and upgrades - after the freedom afforded in Breath of the Wild and other open world games, this seemed quite old fashioned ... yet this was at times to its benefit, with genuine tension arising from exploring the world and trying to find the next save room.

Everything was cleverly designed.  Enemies are varied and require different techniques to defeat (or, as you progress through the game, avoid and run past).  Platforming and traversal, particularly in the morph ball, had a lot of thought put into it, especially the mazes on magnetic rails.  When fighting a boss, I knew there was a way of avoiding attacks - even if I couldn't actually do it consistently.

There are endless clever touches and one-off events.  I particularly liked the room which held a hologram of the solar system.

Looking at this was pretty tense, because each time I scanned something new I thought enemies were about to attack.  Tension was quite thick throughout the game, partially caused by the save system, but also because the enemies - particularly metroids - were generally quite unpredictable.  I'm not a huge fan of scary games, but this just landed on the right side for me.

The scanning mechanic was a bit tiresome.  Having to make sure you scan everything in order to get 100% completion, quickly became unrealistic after I forgot to scan one of the earlier bosses.  That's probably a good thing, as otherwise I imagine I would have become quite obsessed, and a final number of 99% is probably worse than the 91% I ended up with.  I also didn't find all the upgrades.  Going by the HUD at the end, I estimate that there was one energy pack I didn't find, and there must have been quite a few missile and power bomb expansions left unfound.  I am also assuming [and I don't want to know otherwise] that there weren't map stations (to reveal unexplored rooms) in every region, since I only found them in three.

It's taken me 20 years or 19 years or four weeks, depending on your starting point, but I have completed the game.  I didn't have much of an issue with any of the normal enemies, and faltered at only a couple of the bosses.  The omega pirate took a few attempts before I realised that he was recharging his health from time to time.  Meta Ridley just took far too long to kill.  The first time I got to the core of Metroid Prime I had a single energy tank remaining, and died before I worked out how to do any damage.  Otherwise, the difficulty was pitched exactly right to make it challenging but not disheartening.

Now to wait for the remaster of the second game.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD: completed!

At least my thoughts have been consistent.  The top tweet is eleven years after the bottom.

Having bought Twilight Princess alongside my Wii on launch day in December 2006, but then being captivated by other games (and with a general desire to not play the game until Kieron and John were going to do so as well), I didn't get around to actually playing it until 2011, after I finally gave up on my friends' lackadaisical attitude to Zelda gaming.  As I was more active here at the time, you can read several posts about my progress then, where I completed the forest temple, was whisked away to the twilight, had trouble with controlling Wolf Link, met Midna, and scouted for the three parts of the Fused Shadow.  I seemingly got as far as the temple at the bottom of Lake Hylia, including defeating the boss, before giving up.

Giving up? I don't think it was a conscious decision. Instead, Mario Kart 7 was released, I was also playing a Layton game, and other stuff just seemed to grab me instead. I always intended to go back, but I never did.

Skip forward a decade, and I realise that I bought a copy of Twilight Princess HD for the Wii U when it was cheap somewhere, I have no big story game on the go, and I quite fancy crossing this off my list - particularly because I was bought Skyward Sword HD for the Switch for my birthday and I'd like to play that sometime.  So, rather than resurrecting my old save and complaining about being lost, I unwrap the new game and start it.

After a few hours I remember why I lost interest in the early days of my first playthrough. It's just a little dull to start with, meeting people around the village, fishing, running down narrow corridors between areas. There is some interest when children are captured ...

... but the muted (brown, C64-like) colour palette does its best to dissuade this interest. And then you get to the twilight, which (as my tweets above show) I found pretty difficult to progress through.

And yet I did.

I remembered very little about my original playthrough other than chasing monkeys through a forest and the aesthetic.  I suspect that this is largely due to the relatively generic nature of the world; the art direction isn't as recognisable as Breath of the Wild, for example.  It wasn't until I was many hours in that I started to remember my routes through places; but those many hours became more and more exciting as I progressed.  It was clear to me that the story of Midna and the story of Zelda were somehow intertwined, but it wasn't until I met up with the scary-floating-faces crew that things became clear.

Midna is probably the best thing about the game, and having her constant companionship and annoyances throughout the story meant that the end was quite affecting.  Having traversed through Hyrule, back and forth to collect hearts and rupees and equipment and whatnot, there was a definite shift in the endgame once you travel to the skies and then to meet Ganon.  On the way there's a few non-surprises ...

And then once you get to Ganon, it's a pretty standard big boss Zelda game fight, with a few tricks with Midna and Zelda and unexpected but expected changes.  You know you're coming to the final fight when you come across a room full of chests.

Midna doesn't like Ganondorf, by the way.

And then the end of the game.  I think I've mentioned before about the final blow in the Wind Waker, and how no other Zelda game has quite met it - but this came close.  After taunting and attacking and generally making those I cared about suffer, it was nice to make Ganondorf wear a new brooch.

It isn't the best Zelda game.  It's not even the best Zelda game on the Gamecube.  But it is a Zelda game, in the classical form, and the dungeons are well designed, and the characters are (mostly) distinctive and fun, and the puzzles and equipment is intuitive and challenging, and the story is a bit rubbish but you want to see the end of it, and the enemies are enjoyable to fight, and ... it's good.  Overall it went on a little too long, even if the story did take some interesting twists and turns, and the oppressive nature is a huge barrier to enjoyment.  But it's good.

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.