Friday, January 19, 2018

Tools of the Trade

"Now, where did I put the Rifle Spear...?"
Over the New Year's break I noticed a Bloodborne sale on PSN with all the DLC included.  So, I finally decided to pick myself up a copy.  I'm a big fan of Demon's Souls and the first Dark Souls, but Dark Souls 2 gave me a severe case of franchise fatigue.  As such, it took me a long time to work up the motivation to play yet another one of From Software's brutally difficult third-person action RPGs.  For the most part Bloodborne is an excellent next-step in terms of design.  A lot of the needlessly complicated baggage that muddled aspects of the Souls series has been refined and streamlined in Bloodborne; the number of character attributes has been reduced, the complex system of equipment upgrade trees has been greatly pruned, the repost technique has been modified by replacing parrying with "boomsticking," and the weapon list has been mostly stripped of redundancy.  That last point is a bit controversial amongst Souls fans in that some prefer a wider variety than what's available in Bloodborne.  I would argue that the greater variety found in the Souls games is actually an illusion though in that weapon categories sharing the same moveset usually have one among their number which is undeniably superior in every way, a fact that renders all the rest undesirable (at least in the long run).  Regardless of what individual fans feel about the limited arsenal, I think there's one thing pretty much everyone can agree on - weapons in Bloodborne are kind of weird.

The closest there is to a
Bloodborne table-top RPG
Before continuing, I should clarify that last statement by saying particularly when it comes to melee.  Given the faux-historical setting blunderbusses, wheellocks, and other black powder firearms are a logical fit.  That said, "hunters," as they are called in-game, have some bizzare tastes when it comes to doing their job up close and personal.  Take, for example, the iconic starting weapon - the Saw Cleaver.  To me it looks suspiciously like an oversized straight razor.  Similarly, the Whirligig has a shape reminiscent of a pizza cutter.  The Flamesprayer has an uncanny resemblance to a plant mister (with the obvious exception that it shoots fire instead of water).  The Kirkhammer might actually be an exceptionally large meat tenderizer, while the Tonitrus looks more like a scepter lacking in adornments rather than a precursor to the stunbatton.  The Threaded Cane is just that, a cane (that happens to be made of segmented joints).  Then there is the Logarius Wheel which is...yes, you guessed it...a wagon wheel with some nasty bits attached to it.  Meanwhile, weapons like the stakedriver, church pick and hunter's axe feel more appropriate for use in construction work than combat.  The Burial Blade is basically a swiss-army scythe (great for harvesting wheat and it folds up nicely!).  Based on it's own descriptive text, the Fist of Gratia is really just a lump of iron with some crude finger holes in it.  In other words, if it were a bit rounder you could go bowling with it.  The Rifle Spear looks like an enlarged version of a penknife.  Lastly there's some creature's arm, a beast's claw and a parasitic organism, all of which can be used in battle (although they might be better suited to a jar of formaldehyde sitting on some biologist's specimen shelf).

As I said before, not all weapons in Bloodborne are such strange combinations of utility and deformity.  Ludwig's Holy Blade is most definitely a sword, as is the Chikage.  Even the exotic reiterpallasch is actually based on real-world renaissance era prototypes of attempts to combine firearm and blade into a single weapon.  Having said that, realistic weapons are definitely in the minority when it comes to a hunter's arsenal.  Then again, when you're up against werewolves, vampires, and the Cthulhu Mythos (in all but name) the best option might be to fight unconventional foes with unconventional weaponry.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The War for the Galaxy

I have a confession to make.  Despite seeing every single Star Wars movie in a theater I've never been much of a fan.  That might sound kind of weird and contradictory, but the reason is actually pretty straight forward.  I don't particularly like any of the plotlines or characters in Star Wars, but I really enjoy the production design; speeders, walkers, star destroyers, costumes, locals, alien critters, blasters, lightsabers..you name it.  I think they're all incredibly cool looking (and sounding).  As you can probably surmise this also influences my tastes when it comes to Star Wars video games.  Simply put the games that focus on vehicles and gear are what I like the most, the arcade style action movie tie-in games for the Atari 2600 as well as the space flight-sims X-Wing and Tie Fighter.

Obviously, story drive Star Wars games have always held very little appeal to me (sorry...I couldn't care less about Knights of the Old Republic).  I'm also perpetually annoyed that there's never been a game that can emulate the cutting power of the lightsabers as depicted in the the film.  In fact the closest I've ever seen a game get is the totally unrelated Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  When it comes to Jedi themselves, I've always wondered what they do to safeguard peace and justice outside of combat.  Being able to sense the feelings and thoughts of others sounds like it would come in pretty handy during diplomatic negotiations...not to mention mind control.  How about this?

  • A Jedi Detective game in the style of L.A. Noire

Here's a few other ideas I've had recently:

  • A turn-based space combat game like Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock
  • An RTS set on Tatooine akin to Dune II or Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
  • A Coruscant city builder similar to City Skylines or the Anno series
  • A puzzle-platformer wherein you are a baby dianoga hitching rides on starships

None of these pitches are terribly original, but when you look at what EA has done with the license thus far all we've gotten is in 2017 is a bland online multiplayer shooter which feels especially superfluous considering we already have Overwatch, Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.  This is an entire galaxy we're talking about in Star Wars, right?  I doesn't always have to be about the Rebels, the Empire and the Skywalker bloodline.

Sadly, most designers don't really see it that way.  There's this perception that Star Wars will be rejected by fans if it isn't sufficiently similar to the original trilogy (episodes IV, V and VI).  The problem I have with that line of thought is what constitutes a Star Wars experience tends to be an all-to-vague collection of narrative themes, character archetypes and visual setpieces.  I get it, but it's sort of like insisting that all anime must be about cute big-eyed girls and angsty boys that yell a lot.  It doesn't have to be that way...and yet the overwhelming majority of the time it is.  I wish Star Wars video games would be willing to distance themselves creatively rather than being a poor-man's copy of the plots from the films - complete with cameos by all your favorite characters...*sigh*

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Black Tiger, Hidden Agenda

Steam has a serious problem with shovelware.  To Valve's credit though they don't really promote any of the garbage that is steadily overcrowding their library of games.  PSN, on the other hand, has gone out of its way to advertise the abomination that is Life of Black Tiger.  Right off the bat, would-be-players might notice the banner art for the game is actually just a slightly reworked version of a freely available background wallpaper image.  That in itself isn't a big deal, but it gets worse.  Watch the trailer and you might notice some music playing in the background.  It's actually a cover by "JackonTC" of the OST song "Next to You," for none other than the anime "Parasyte" ("Kiseiju," in the original Japanese).  So what?...you might think.  Original art and sound assets aren't necessary to make a good game, right?  Technically...yes, but Black Tiger isn't a good game by any stretch.  It has graphics comparable to a PS2 title, despite being released on the PS4.  It also has audio issues, non-existent collision detection, clunky controls, and English localization text that reads as follows:
It's full of smell with blood of wolves today and the smell is stronger than a few days ago.  I can't bear with it. Let's kill every wolves found.
That's just one of the less jiberish-laden examples, but believe me if it hadn't originally came out for the Android three years ago I would have given it this blog's "Engrish Award" for 2017.  Another point worth noting is the Android version of this game is absolutely free, while the PSN version costs 10 USD.  Horrible, I know, but even worse is the fact it's not the only game on PSN that has done this.  Horse Racing 2016  (which actually came out for the PS4 in 2017) is a dollar on google play...but...well, let's just say it goes for a bit more on PSN.

Generally speaking, Black Tiger is considered to be one of the worst, if not the worst game currently available on the Playstation Store.  A number of people strongly believe Sony is pulling some kind of elaborate joke by curating this game.  I've also seen accusations of nepotism (the developer must actually be the son of a Sony CEO or something along those lines...).  The publisher is a company called "1GAMES" which, as far as I can tell, has pushed out a fair amount of trash over the years.  However, I haven't been able to find any specific names attached to this particular title (perhaps for somewhat obvious reasons).

The last thing I want to mention about Black Tiger is the reviews...particularly on Metacritic.  Of course there are plenty of 0/10 scores that are fairly honest about their impressions of the game, but the real enjoyment comes from reading those 10 out of ten perfect ratings.  They are, in the vast majority of cases, being deliberately sarcastic about the quality of the game to the point that it can be pretty entertaining to browse through some them and see what people wrote...at least more so than actually playing the game.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Paris + Milan: Mario Strategy

I've been chipping away at my small library of Nintendo Switch games over the last couple months.  Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart are won and done, but I've only just completed MARIO+RabbiDs: Kingdom Battle (rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?).  It's an interesting game that just missed out on winning the "Avant-Garde" category for my 2017 list of awards.  The writing is pretty clever in places and the basic small-squad, turn-based firefights are great.  Players might be reminded of XCOM.  What's on offer here though is both a distillation and refinement of the mechanics found in that game.  Sadly, it's not all sunshine and stars in the Mushroom Kingdom.

One of the less stellar aspects of MARIO+RabbiDs (it's not a typo!) is the difficulty curve.  Of the four worlds found in the game, the first and second are extremely easy.  Meanwhile, the fourth and final world gets brutally hard toward the end.  I'm not even talking about the last boss so much as the four back-to-back battles featuring cameos by RabbiD Wario and RabbiD Waluigi.  The healing abilities of Princess Peach (or her RabbiD counterpart) are pretty much required to endure the waves of enemy units.  It's not a dealbreaker, but the viable team selection does feel awfully limited in the late game areas.  Outside of combat there's a decided lack of compelling things to do.  Exploration is fun, but requires a lot of backtracking and the rewards for solving puzzles and claiming a prizes are more often than not lackluster collectables like concept art.

So, there you have it, Mario+RabbiDs has a strong core gameplay element surrounded by some weak peripheral components.  That said, getting to battle a ghost/rabbit/gramophone hybrid world boss, who delivers operatically sung  hints as to how he can be defeated, is one for the books.  I also think the anti-discriminatory rule built into the team selection system is amusing.  Requiring players to choose at least one RabbiD team member might piss some Nintendo purists off, but for me it's schadenfreude.  As far as third-party treatment of iconic Nintendo characters go, it could have been better...but then again, it could have been a lot worse.