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?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Assassin's Creed III: completed!

To be honest, the feeling of being overwhelmed by choice never really left me, and I spent many hours wandering around the American countryside chasing nothing in particular.  After the initial twist in the story, and the urgency created by the village being burnt to the ground, there was no real impetus to hurry through the game - not helped by the fact that your main enemy keeps on cropping up and you keep on having to watch cutscenes where you aren't allowed to kill them.

And then you have to team up with your dad, who's a bad guy, and you know that at some point he's going to die.  You just know it.

So I once again found myself distracted by parts of the game which weren't actually necessary in terms of storyline, but in many cases were more fun.  The sailing being a prime example.

Controlling a ship to chase down pirates or the British was great fun in the main, and even though half the screen was blocked from view by your ship which has a turning circle radius of several hundred miles, it still felt like you were in control.  Yes, it feels like you're battling your ship as well as the enemy, but I imagine it is far more responsive than a real boat.

I also spent some time looking for trinkets, exploring the wilderness, and sneaking around forts.  Not trying to complete any of these in particular, mind, given the lack of achievements and trophies, but rather seeing where they took me.  And after playing for a while they took me to some very strange places indeed.

I started to be followed around by a large spherical mess of polygons.  It blocked my view, shifted itself around the screen from time to time, and was a pain in the arse.  So I quit and restarted from the previous save.

Which then made me into a large spherical mess of polygons.

Restarting again seemed to work fine, until characters and items started to clip through each other - like this horse mounting a second hay wagon.  This was the most amusing bug of all, watching people floating along the top of crowds.

Anyway, we can't mess around for ever.  Returning back to the main story, I followed the path to track down Charles Lee, which led to long battles with the patriot army (helped by my assassin colleagues), and then a chase through a burning ship.  In the end, finally, he got what was coming to him.

It's not as bad a game as some have said.  Connor is certainly less likable than Ezio, but the story had some good turns in the first half the game.  It just feels like it goes on too long, and you miss many opportunities to finish the story because you are taken out of control during the cutscenes - the Connor in the cutscenes was a very different character to the Connor in the rest of the game.

A side story next.

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.