ArbitraryWater's Worst and Most Questionable Games of 2013 that may or may not have come out in 2013

It's December now. Time to start thinking about Game of the Year junk and all that. While Giant Bomb will no doubt grace us with some amazing, overproduced video magic nonsense and 4 hour podcasts involving grown men arguing about the quality of games that involve the word “Brothers” in the title, I'll be over here, making my two usual holiday lists and accompanying write-ups. But I'll be taking a break from video games (and thus this website) for a while sometime early next year, so I figure there's no better time than now then to discuss the true stars of 2013. No, not Bioshock, not Grand Theft Auto the Fifth. The Last of Us? What is that? No. We're talking about the baddest and most questionable video games I played this year. You may recall the list I made, or perhaps the blogs. But I think it a bit crude to rate them in a top 10 list. No, all of these gems are bad or questionable in their own special way and I think it's time everyone gets a trophy. Thus, special achievement awards.

Most Disappointing 3rd person shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Dead Space 3.

Original Blog Here

Dead Space 3 is a game that dies the death of a thousand corporate mandates. Most of the things that make that game bad can be traced to poorly-advised attempts to make it mass-market viable. Like the naked suggestion that you should pay them real money to make your probes come back faster, the shift to universal ammo (ensuring that you'll never run out) or the entirely unnecessary addition of co-op.

A couple of years from now, when we discuss how great Dead Space 1 and 2 were, this will be the unfortunate footnote

But even without those things, Dead Space 3 would still be inferior to its forebears. It starts out promising enough (, the first 1/3rd or so of the game on that flotilla of long-abandoned ships is pretty alright, nothing special but certainly still enjoyable. But then you touch down on the Ice Planet... and everything suddenly becomes progressively lazier and progressively worse the further down you go. Any sort of tension evaporates as you realize that Necromorphs will always appear out of the places you expect (a vent, probably behind you), when you expect them to (usually when you press a switch or something) in environments that look oddly similar to the environments you passed through an hour ago (dilapidated old military buildings). It certainly doesn't hurt that you've got ammo for days. Resorting to the plasma cutter because you're out of everything else? Pish posh. Now that ammunition is universal, who is going to stop you from blowing shit up with a grenade launcher/chain lightning gun at all times? (answer: NO ONE) Actually, I will give it this: the weapon customization system is really neat and I'd like it in a better designed game please and thank you. I haven't even mentioned the story, which reaches a level of colossally dumb that most other games can only dream of. I'll just leave it at that. NECROMORPH MOON.

Least Disappointing 3rd Person Shooter with a vaguely horror-ish theme: Resident Evil 6

Original Blawg

How can you be disappointed in a game you expected to be bad from the onset?

Now let me be entirely blunt: Resident Evil 6 is only the least disappointing because I had very low expectations going in, given the pretty widespread condemnation that title received when it came out last year. I was pleasantly surprised, and by pleasantly surprised I mean that I didn't entirely hate it. Oh, it's a bad game; endemic of everything wrong with “AAA” and Japanese game development today, but in some ways I applaud its deluded ambitions. Resident Evil Revelations, which I also played this year, is a much better game, but this is a far more honest indicator of where the series is now, maybe for the better, certainly for the worse. The story is the usual brand of nonsense you'd expect from the series but much like Resident Evil 5 I feel that the raw amount of money thrown in its general direction makes something that would otherwise be super cheesy and lame quite watchable. I willingly played through parts of it again cooperatively with a friend on his copy (which I gave to him, because I'm a bad person). I even think the basic shooting mechanics are alright, overly-close camera notwithstanding.

It's everywhere else that RE6 falters, though at least you can say its failures come in different flavors. Leon's Campaign is the most playable and reminiscent of the older games in the series; RE4 specifically. Chris' is a questionable attempt at something resembling Gears of War, Jake's consists of a lot of really bad scripted set-pieces and Ada's... well Ada probably has the worst of the lot with what might be one of the single worst stealth sequences I've seen in a video game. All of them contain moments that make you go “Was any of this playtested?” (every single boss fight comes to mind) and a generous barrage of insta-death QTEs for good measure. But still, I think I'd voluntarily replay the entirety of this game than have to slog through the mediocrity of Dead Space 3, because at least Resident Evil 6 tries. Oh sure, It's the effort of a Japanese company trying to make a game that appeals to Western audiences without understanding what makes something like Gears of War good, but it's a far more interesting failure because of it. Or maybe my love for previous Resident Evil games has subconsciously blinded me and I'm simply crazy.

Best game that I still fully acknowledge as being not-great/guilty pleasure award: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

Original Write up thingy


After almost giving Dishonored my Game of the Year last year (and some days I'll tell you that it is my GOTY 2012 and XCOM is in the #1 spot by accident), I figured I had to know what Arkane had been up to previously. While my eventual playthrough of Arx Fatalis hasn't happened yet, I did play this little “gem” earlier in the year. I'm not going to tell you that Dark Messiah is a game of considerable quality, but I had fun playing it. While its RPG, stealth and exploration aspects are a bit half-baked, as a first person action game where you kick things into other things it cannot be beaten. All the ancient weapons and magicks of Ashan are no match for your mighty foot. Enemy is near conveniently placed spikes? Kick them into the spikes! Enemy is near a ledge? KICK THEM OFF THE LEDGE. It's a clear indication of when that game was released, since physics were all the rage in 2006 instead of just being something you passively acknowledged and continued onward. The story is also dumb, but of course it is.

Worst game that I'm surprised didn't kill the franchise then and there: Devil May Cry 2

Original Blog

The internet has apparently been right these past 10 years; this game is REALLY bad.

While I question if the first Devil May Cry necessarily holds up all that well with its Resident Evil-esque camera angles and comparatively stiff controls, it's clear that it is at least an important, influential title that has laid the groundwork for many of the character action games that have come after it. It's sequel, on the other hand... might be the worst game I played to completion this year. It's as shallow and bland as Devil May Cry 3 is nuanced and flashy. You don't get any new moves, and all of your melee weapons handle the same with slightly different stats. Guns are absurdly overpowered and you'll need that because of how poorly designed a lot of the bosses are. The game is around 5-6 hours long, and that was playing through both characters' stories. There is an egregiously bad underwater segment at one point. Capcom barely acknowledges its existence, and that's probably for the best, given how it all feels like a second-rate imitation of Devil May Cry rather than any sort of sequel. Still, this is the team that went on to make 3 and 4, so I'll at least give them credit for learning from their mistakes.

Worst halloween-type game from a developer I otherwise respect: Grabbed by the Ghoulies

Blog, the Original

At least with Devil May Cry 2 I had people who could sympathize with my plight. As Nuts and Bolts was so keen to remind us, NO ONE played this game. Thus, I was left to complain about it all alone.

I guess I could have put Costume Quest for this category as well, but Costume Quest is a $15 downloadable title clearly aimed at actual children (because I can't see how any adult in their right mind would find Costume Quest's repetitive brand of ultra-shallow “My first RPG” enjoyable past the first 30 minutes of its 4 hour playtime) made by Double Fine, a developer not exactly known for making stuff with great gameplay; Brad Muir's tower defense/shooter/copyright infringement machine aside. Grabbed by the Ghoulies was a $50 retail title made by Rareware, also known as the people responsible for like half of my favorite childhood games, and it's also openly aggravating at times instead of just mind-numbingly boring. Ghoulies is... I guess a brawler type game where you have no moves and instead just point the right stick in the general direction of your enemies. It's also basically a series of challenge rooms with conditions like “Kill X Enemy” and “Don't Kill X Enemy”, with difficulty varying wildly from one room to the next (because your health also varies from room to room, naturally). There's very little nuance to the combat in a game that is all combat, and if the repetition doesn't get you the random, frustrating difficulty spikes will. Along with Kameo (Another game I played this year, the highest level of praise for which I can muster being: “It's alright”), it's clear that Rare didn't become a soulless husk of a company that only puts out kinect games by accident. And, as always, that's a shame because Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was the shit.

Worst game that I didn't finish because of how bored I was by the time I gave up: Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning


No seriously, it becomes progressively easier and more boring the longer you play.

The best thing I can say about both Devil May Cry 2 and Grabbed by the Ghoulies is that they're over quickly. Kingdoms of Amalur is a Single Player MMO that runs out of steam long before you get anywhere near the finishing line, as I found out around the 25 hour mark. It's a title with a lot of really interesting ideas and systems that aren't capitalized upon well enough to last its entire running length. Part of that simply has to do with a bad power curve: it becomes incredibly easy to cheese the various gameplay systems at work, be it through maxing out sagecrafting in order to socket health regeneration gems into every single piece of armor or simply spamming the handful of powerful attack skills at your disposal. But even then, it doesn't have enough content to justify its length. Stuff starts repeating heavily around the halfway mark, and the writing isn't good enough to justify the usual “Kill X” or “Go to X” quests that populate the world. It's a pity there will never be another one, because I could have seen a sequel really delivering on the promise shown in Reckoning.

Worst Bioware Game that isn't that Sonic RPG/Most controversial item on this list: Jade Empire

Blog thing

So hey, Baldur's Gate 2 was pretty great.

I wanted to like Jade Empire, and in some ways I feel like I would've loved it had I played it when it came out in 2005. It was Bioware's first attempt at original IP, a mish mash of Asian culture and mythology with a different twist on the usual Good/Evil axis. It has a pretty great supporting cast, some really good individual vignettes...and a really abysmal combat system compounded by shallow, imbalanced character progression. If you've noticed a theme running throughout these awards, “monotonous combat” is one of them. Still, Jade Empire isn't bad. It has its moments (one featuring John Cleese as a stereotypical European imperialist being a particular highlight) and I can see how someone could have liked this game had they played it when it was new and relevant. As it stands I didn't, and I think it's outclassed by everything Bioware has made before and after. Though, if this is their low point then I'd say they still have a pretty good track record as a developer... well, besides this next game.

Worst Bioware Game that is that Sonic RPG -- Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood

There is no blog because I found this game un-entertaining enough that I have yet to finish it. Don't worry, that will change one day, probably when I need to feel bummed out about life again.

The Alpha Protocol Award for “Game that I liked until it fell apart at the seams”: Assassin's Creed III

Thing Blog

Tomahawking Redcoats? I don't see how that could go wrong.

I probably liked Assassin's Creed III more than some of you, given that I did continue playing after the protagonist switch and the 6-hour long tutorial, but that doesn't mean I don't think it's sort of a mess. As I mentioned in my blog, it throws a ton of side activities at you but disconnects them all in such a way to not really give the player any motivation to do them, leaving me to just barrel through the main story, far too much of which consists of eavesdropping, forced stealth and chase sequences, all of which were sort of bad when Assassin's Creed 1 did them 5 years prior and somehow worse now. The final chase of the game is one of the worst things I've seen in a long time. It's good that Ubisoft seems to have found their footing again with Black Flag, but they should probably slow down and take a long, hard look at where they want this series to go.

Best Blog about the nature of Time Travel in Chrono Trigger/Game my Computer hates the most: Might and Magic IX

Original thing

No seriously, just play Wizardry 8. Everyone with a vague appreciation for RPGs should play Wizardry 8.

That first award is there mostly as a reminder that 90% of my blogs don't reach more than 20ish comments. My most commented on blog this year was the one about Might and Magic IX (and King's Bounty: Crossworlds, but that game is actually good so it won't get a mention here), but unfortunately due to some offhand thing that @video_game_king probably said, it somehow became dominated with a discussion about Chrono Trigger, which is also a good old game and that reminds me: I should get back to Chrono Cross. My second award is a reference to the fact that my computer now refuses to run Might and Magic IX, despite being able to do so previously. I'm guessing I played more than half of it, so I can say with certainty that regular human beings should not play Might and Magic IX, a game that is staggeringly competent despite the fact that it was shipped in a very broken, very unfinished state. As a fan of the series I needed to play it (and I'll need to complete it) for my own sake. For the rest of you: Just play Might and Magic VI or VII. Or Wizardry 8. Wizardry 8 is still great.

And that's it, at least for now! I'll probably have my more legitimate awards lists done next week or so, so if you found this lengthy bitch-fest a bit too dour, you have nothing but positivity to expect moving forward! I'm pretty close to finishing Saints Row IV, and that game is pretty great, though I may play something else as a palette cleanser before going back to Assassin's Creed. Like.. I dunno... Arcanum or Fallout 2? You know, my CRPG white whales. Speaking of Fallout, it and its sequels are free on GOG until like... saturday Catch that hot old school RPG action and get some old games on sale while you're there.


I play modern games: A Link Between XCOMs

Well, I CLEARLY can't finish up my Game of the Year list until I play more New Super Luigi U. Just look! It might as well say SYSTEM SELLER right on the box! What's a 3D World?

Thanksgiving has come and gone. It was a fairly low-key one for me this year, with surprisingly little in the realm of “eating a regrettable amount of turkey/stuffing/sweet potatoes/green beans/sparkling cider/pie” and more “Eating a Rueben at 11PM because I didn't stuff myself with turkey, then very much regretting it the next morning”. It's not all horrible indigestion though: I am now the semi-proud owner of a Wii U. Thanks to the power of that Best Buy black friday deal, I convinced/tricked my parents to get one for “The Family” as an early Christmas present (because we're all old now and there won't be any more magic or surprise until my older sisters start having kids), and thus I can know with confidence that I'll be able to play the worthwhile exclusives for that system during its lifetime and let it collect dust otherwise except when people want to play that chase game in Nintendo Land. But anyways, we're not here to talk about how Super Mario 3D World seems pretty cool, or how New Super Mario Bros U seems exactly like New Super Mario Bros/Wii/2. No, let's back up a bit, to like a week ago when I thought about writing a blog, but didn't. They shot lasers into my eyes like 3 weeks ago. It's going well.

XCOM: Enemy Within

We will be watching, Commander

The reason I abstained from writing an entire blog about the expansion to my GOTY of last year (though in retrospect, I'm half-convinced Dishonored should have won instead) is because I wondered how much I could write before just repeating what I wrote about the base game a year ago. This week, I figured that it doesn't matter because no one reads my old stuff past the week it goes on the community spotlight and this blog is really about Zelda anyways. As an expansion, Enemy Within is pretty much exactly what I wanted out of an expansion to Enemy Unknown, which is to say that it adds more variables and numbers to a game that was sort of lacking in them before. Don't get me wrong, I am fully behind Firaxis' modern re-imagining of the 1994 strategy classic (far more than I am behind Xenonauts, which seems to get an update to its alpha version roughly once every trillion years), but it was very much a game that relied on difficulty instead of complexity.

Colonel Smatters was my MVP of this run. Truly one of Earth's Greatest Heroes. It should also be mentioned that being able to set the language for your soldiers is a really nice touch and makes it feel like an international organization instead of a bunch of American dudes. All we need now are accents and we're golden.

Enemy Within alleviates some of this by re-balancing the old skills and items, making the game generally harder (Thin Men are now legitimately frightening early on) and throwing in MEC Troopers and Gene Mods to compensate. I heavily invested in MECs during my playthrough, due to their uncanny ability to take and dish absurd amounts of damage, often over an area thanks to the presence of a flamethrower, grenade launcher and proximity mines. They aren't without their drawbacks though: Their inability to take cover means that they take a lot of hot plasma to the face, which they can't really mitigate early on (some of their later skills allow for some serious damage sponge potential). They're expensive, costing 50 Meld to build a level 1 suit, 200 to get it all the way to level 3, and their weapons use a ridiculous amount of ammo (a grand 2 normal shots or 3 overwatch shots before you buy the ammo capacity foundry upgrade). Gene mods are a lot less interesting, basically a handful of stat or situation boosts that can make your regular soldiers more dangerous and durable, though Memetic Skin (cloaked whenever you move into high cover) might be the most broken thing in the world if you use it right, especially with Snipers who treat all cover as high cover. Both require Meld, a resource found in most missions that is attached to a timer, which in turn forces you to play more aggressively than the notoriously boring move > overwatch party that comprised a lot of the strategy for the higher difficulties. It's a smart change in a game full of smart changes. The EXALT stuff, while very much optional, is also a nice change of pace when you're fighting waves of guys who are similarly equipped like your soldiers, often vying for control of a specific point or points.

Unfortunately, some of the more... fundamental problems I had with XCOM still remain. Both in this and in vanilla, there comes a point where the difficulty curve plateaus and it stops being interesting, around the time you are consistently able to equip your dudes with plasma weapons. This is something that even the appearance of Muton Elites, Sectopods and Ethereals for the last 15% of the game can't fix. The endgame is dull, perhaps as a counterbalance to how easily screwed you can get early on, and it's led me to believe the game is actually balanced for Ironman mode. The final mission is unchanged and about as abysmal as you may have remembered it being, putting the cherry of poor taste on top of a boring sundae. It doesn't entirely detract from how generally great the rest of the game is, but those last few hours are such a slog. Also, I finally saw the Slingshot DLC content, and it's weird as hell that they'd include a named unique character in a game with generic, customizable soldiers and the whole thing feels extraneous and out of place as a result. Even with these reservations, I'll issue this blanket statement: If you liked Enemy Unknown, you will like this expansion. If you didn't, this won't change your mind. Even now I'm severely tempted to start an Ironman classic playthrough with a bunch of second wave options turned on. But I won't, because I still have to write about:

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

This is a pretty good cover.

I have a confession to make: I never finished A Link to the Past. I got it for the GBA back in Christmas of 2002, but I was too young (around 10 or 11) to make much of a dent in it. I think I got as far as... the first dark world dungeon, if I recall. At some point I lost that cartridge, though I do have it on my Wii's virtual console... which is super convenient since I just put away my Wii to set up the Wii U. Maybe I'll just get that data transfer done and play it that way. Why? Because after playing this, I need to play (and finish) a Link to the Past. Even remembering the little that I do of those first few dungeons and the light world, it's uncanny how much deja vu I had at times. A Link Between Worlds banks hard on nostalgia, but because of my ignorance I'm not entirely sure to what degree it does so, but I'm going to guess it skirts the line pretty closely between “Loving homage” and “Cynical play at your childhood”. Regardless, I didn't need a knowledge of the 22-year-old classic to enjoy what this 3DS incarnation has put forth.

In fact, I was surprised how much I really enjoyed this game. I've never been the world's biggest Zelda fan, I never beat Twilight Princess, I never touched Skyward Sword and my choice of favorite is still the very safe, rather boring option of Ocarina of Time. For all its old-school trappings, A Link Between Worlds is probably the most experimental the series has been since Majora's Mask, which I also feel the desire to finish despite the part where I've vocally stated my distaste for Majora's Mask (hell, I feel the desire to play through the entire series at this point). In focusing on nonlinear dungeon progression and keeping the item progression almost entirely separate from that, they've made a much more mercenary, freewheeling Zelda game that doesn't patronize the player and makes the side stuff a lot more interesting and useful. The mere act of exploring around the world is quite fun, since there are rupees (which, bucking the grand traditions of the series, actually have a use) and baby malamai (which you use to upgrade your items) everywhere. In fact, if you do nothing but the main path, you'll actually miss out on a not insignificant amount of content. Those puzzle challenge rooms that force you to use items in clever ways? So fantastic, and you'll need the money if you want to buy any of the items instead of just renting them (and you can't upgrade a rented item).

The ability to merge with the wall is very much a vital part of the game, and you should get used to thinking about dungeons in terms of "What would happen if I stuck myself to the wall here?"

Said dungeons are universally well-designed, there are no boring/frustrating Water Temple equivalents, though they also seem shorter on average. In fact, I never got seriously stuck, given my knowledge that: Any given dungeon can only assume you have the item required to complete it and nothing else thanks to the rental system. That means that any puzzles you run into can only require that item, merging with the wall or otherwise messing with stuff you'd have regardless of which order you tackled the dungeon. That's not to say they don't find clever ways to use those items (au contrare, it means that they have to find clever ways to use those items as opposed to whatever the hell that top thing was in Twilight Princess), but my point is that I wouldn't have minded something a little more taxing, something a little crazier. The combat I have less issue with being easy (especially if you were like me and used the upgraded fire rod to incinerate whatever came in my way) because of the presence of Hero mode, as seems to be standard with the series now, though they should really just make it avaliable from the start instead of a New Game + sort of thing. Maybe Master Quest has spoiled me with its crazy, gloves-off style of design, but I think the proof in favor of ALBW is that I had to force myself to not finish it before we went off for Thanksgiving stuff, whereas I still haven't finished that Master Quest disk despite owning it for 2 years. These are still some prime examples of how to make a good Zelda dungeons and I won't have anyone saying anything different. Better than Oracle of Seasons, which is my most recent benchmark for the series. Oh right, I totally finished Oracle of Seasons. It's pretty good (it's not this, that's for sure) and somewhere between Saints Row IV (which I got for $15 off Amazon) and whatever the heck I have on this Wii U box I'll probably get around to playing my linked Oracle of Ages game as well. It still blows my mind that those games weren't actually made by Nintendo, or that they crammed that much game into a Gameboy Color cartridge. Oh, right, what were we talking about again? 3DS Games? Why would we talk about something relevant when I can wax about 10+ year old CRPGs instead?

According to my usage statistics, which I had never actually looked at before, (apparently I've played more Pokemon X in the past month than I have Fire Emblem since February, which scares me and oh hey I'd still be up for battling or whatevz.) It took me somewhere in the realm of 15 hours to beat A Link Between Worlds. I didn't get all of the heart containers or weapon upgrades, but I'd say I did my fair share of exploring and screwing around before deciding that any more completionism was unnecessary and made a beeline for the critical path. Your mileage may vary. Just remember that this game is still longer than Jade Empire. All in all, I think A Link Between Worlds will most certainly find a place on my Game of the Year list, which I thought was set in stone but between this, Super Mario 3D World and Saints Row, I cannot make that list for a while. Don't worry, the “Best Games of 2013 that didn't come out in 2013” and “Worst Games I played in 2013 that may or may not have come out in 2013” awards blogs are also mentally in the works. Looks like I'll have my work cut out for me this December. Good. I'll want to do something a bit crazy before I take that break from video games that I've been threatening to do. Have a (relevant) speedrun.

OH RIGHT. As an addendum, the Deadliest Warrior expansion to Chivalry is cray-crazy from the 3 straight hours that I played of it thanks to the added absurdity of Pirates fighting Ninjas fighting Samurai fighting Knights fighting Spartans fighting Vikings (because 6 team deathmatch is a thing). I'm still bad at Chivalry. Chivalry is still really dumb and great. We should play Chivalry together.


I play questionable, modern games (Assassin's Creed III)

Hey guys. I played video games once again for your sick pleasures. In this case, I continue my way down the magical path of questionable video games. Sure, I also played some Batman: Arkham Asylum , but you already know that game is good when you played it 4 years ago. I now know firsthand that game is great, and from what I've played of Arkham City it seems to be of a similar quality. But that's it. No one wants to read another write-up about how good the combat flow is in those games, or how they compare against each other (thus far, Asylum is winning out in my mind). Instead, let's talk about another game, one that I'm sure you've been waiting with baited breath for me to give a verbal thrashing. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Assassin's Creed the Third.

I can now see why AC3 won Giant Bomb's “Most Disappointing” last year instead of Resident Evil 6. Unlike aforementioned RE6, I wouldn't call Assassin's Creed III a bad game. I mostly enjoyed my time with it. But it's also a mess, and that's even in starker contrast when compared to the rather slick open world stylings of AC2 or Brotherhood. It's a victim of its own ambitions; compartmentalized to the point of farce and that's not even getting into the part where the tutorial section is roughly 5-6 hours long. Its portrayal of Colonial America is one that is surprisingly great, far less “America Rah Rah” than I expected, though that is still hampered by the part where it's really all about ancient aliens and is a prime example of the “All-Story” that was so mocked during last year's GOTY deliberation. Deservedly so.

Also you can climb trees now. Because you are a Native American. Racist.

Assassin's Creed III is a game of systems. Climbing, combat, hunting, assassin's guild stuff, taking over forts, liberating cities from Templar control, assassination contracts, catching Benjamin Franklin's almanac pages for no good reason, Boats, exploring underground passages, petting animals that part where you can craft stuff and... I dunno. Desmond. While the previous games had a lot of these ancillary mechanics thrown upon the normal gameplay loop of climbing tall buildings, stabbing people in the face and neck and hiding from guards introduced in the first game... because it's not like that first game had much else. AC3 has all of these, but doesn't quite know what to do with them. When you upgraded your villa to make more money in AC2, you did it to get better armor and weapons, the direct benefits of which were fairly evident, especially where that extra health was concerned. Sure, you didn't really need to upgrade your throwing knife capacity all that much,and you certainly didn't need to be a completionist monster and collect all of those feathers, but extraneous, unnecessary upgrades are sort of part and parcel with what makes an open world game.

I can count the number of times I fought a bear on one finger. Because you have to kill a bear in the main story.

However, that's how everything that isn't the main quest feels in AC3. It's there, if you want to do it, but there isn't necessarily a useful reward for doing so. Take money. You probably will earn most of your money through trade caravans, selling goods that are generated on your homestead, crafting better items to make more money, or just getting rid of whatever Connor has randomly looted from the piles of corpses (or animal corpses) he creates. What can you spend this money on? Better weapons? I did just fine with the tomahawk the game starts you with. Boat Upgrades maybe, but there are like two boat missions as part of Connor's main journey. The boat side quests are quite fun, but they are also quite self-contained and you could very well ignore them. Same goes for city liberation (More Assassin dudes for your guild stuff), fort liberation (More money I guess), almanac pages (achievement points) and the frankly terrible optional objectives during missions (self-satisfaction, but really just self-loathing because you restarted that mission like 8 times to make sure you didn't get detected). Guess what? I'll jump through your video game completionist hoops if you give me a reason, video game. I got all 108 characters in Suikoden III and I enjoyed doing so, even beyond the rather satisfying epilogue story. Assassin's Creed triple fails to give the player a reason. It's not even like any of these systems are bad, or even un-fun (those boat missions are actually some of the best stuff the game has to offer). They just feel so... unnecessary.

Don't worry, Desmond is here to remind you of the dumb, unnecessary narrative justification for why you can go through all of these historical events. But this time he actually does things!

But what I've harped on is icing, or at least the outer layer of this metaphorical video game cake. The core gameplay loop is still fine. The smart climbing button is a good addition. The changes to the combat on the other hand... aren't necessarily explained super well. If the game told me that I had to press an additional button after doing a counter, I must of missed it, because I didn't realize you could vary your counter-attacks until halfway through my merry adventure, or that certain enemies didn't respond well to certain counters. That isn't really the game's problem so much as it was my problem. But don't worry, Air Conditioning 3 has mission design that at its worst makes me wonder if anyone actually play-tested that segment. There's an almost crippling reliance on eavesdropping and chasing guys, neither of which which was fun in the previous titles, and then there's the occasional no-detection stealth sequence, allowing you to discover first hand how poor the sneaking mechanics are in the series as a whole. There are also more than a few set-piece moments, a lot of which are based on something vaguely resembling historical fact, like that time where you help your bro Samuel Adams throw tea in the Boston harbor, or that part where you run through a hail of gunfire during the battle of Bunker Hill (to stab someone, of course). These also suffer from inconsistencies in quality, with the worst easily being that egregiously terrible final chase and the best... I dunno. That part where you ride with Paul Revere is alright. Certainly no “Fistfighting the Pope”, but what is? Oh, and don't forget Desmond getting outside of the Animus, the final instance of which can lightly be considered something of a proof-of-concept if they ever decide to make a game fully set in modern times.

But let's sit back and get real: the modern/sci-fi part of Assassin's Creed is the worst part. I didn't always think that. It was a neat hook in the first game when they kept it all sort of purposefully vague, and that ending twist in the second where the ancient aliens directly address Desmond was a fantastic way to cap it off. But there's a point in 3 where I realized that I didn't like any of the characters and really didn't care for the part where Desmond is the chosen one who has to save the world with the help of “Those who came before”, and given the way that story hastily wraps itself up in a a way that left a bad taste in my mouth, I'm sort of glad that AC4 has reduced it to a sort of hilarious meta-joke about game development.

Drink every time he utters the phrase "WHERE IS CHARLES LEE"

Connor has a much more interesting tale, though it also concludes in a rushed and unsatisfying manner, though his story cannot be mentioned without mentioning his father Haytham, who you play as for the first 4 or so hours of the game. I understand why they did it. It serves as a nice set-up for the primary antagonists of the story, tricks you into rooting for them and then... SURPRISE you were a Templar the whole time. That would've been fine on its own, but when the game transitions over to Connor there is still another two or so hours of tutorializing that could have been streamlined or averted. I feel like a lot of people dropped off there because of that, and I wouldn't blame them. Connor himself is the polar opposite of Ezio: serious, idealistic, and more than a little naïve, something of a wet blanket. However, this allows him to act as an outside observer to the actions of everyone else, and point out the occasional hypocrisies that are usually swept under the rug in elementary school-type history. To its credit, AC3 is a lot less pro-America than I initially thought it would be, especially in its portrayal of George Washington. It also plays devil's advocate with the Templars, first with the return of the “You probably shouldn't have killed me you idiot” speeches that were a longer-winded aspect of the first game that I liked and also the interactions that Connor has with his father once they meet up. It's right when all of these are coming together in a really interesting way that the game decides it needs to end and barrels towards the conclusion with reckless abandon. It hurts the modern side far more than the historical (especially in the way it sets it up as a choice, then proceeds to choose for the player) but both Connor and Desmond feel like they've been cheated out of a satisfying conclusion.

I am morbidly interested in knowing what happens in this Evil George Washington DLC, but I'm sure as heck not paying money for it. If any of you played it, you should tell me how it goes.

All of this makes it sound like I hated this game. I really didn't. Part of that is no doubt in part because I played this game with my brother and didn't have to do every single eavesdrop and whatnot, but there are plenty of individual parts in the game that are well-made and enjoyable, and aside from those last three hours I was quite enjoying my time with the story. The problem is, Assassin's Creed III is less than the sum of these parts, one that feels like it was made by 8 different studios (and it was) and in some ways crushed under the weight of its own ambition. I got Air Conditioning 4: Bigger Blacker Flag as an early birthday present, so you can expect me to tell you exactly how superior pirate fun time adventures are to this. At some point. XCOM Enemy Within comes out on tuesday, I'm getting lasik (!) on thursday and Desktop Dungeons is really hard. Until then, don't shove an electroshock game down your pants.


Pokeblog: Dual Versions of Destiny

Of all of my video game purchases this year, my best one thus far is probably that 3DS I got off Ebay for $120. With it, I was finally able to dispose of (i.e. sell) my launch-era DS Phat with a broken hinge to one of my friends in exchange for $20 and possibly his copy of Muramasa. Fire Emblem is still my preemptive game of the year (though, it probably doesn't hurt that I haven't actually played a ton of games that came out this year) and Super Mario 3D Land will probably end up somewhere on my “Best of 2013 that didn't come out in 2013” list. But for once I am going to tell you about games that have come out in 2013, recently even. Also they're both for the 3DS. Which is why I mentioned it in the first place.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

It's funny that Apollo Justice is actually a better character in this than he was in his own game. Guess it helps not to be overshadowed by chessmaster Hobo Phoenix.

Ace Attorney is probably one of those franchises that I'd follow into the pits of hell. Something about the anime courtroom antics appeals to me on a fundamental level, even though the gameplay involves a lot of trial and error and I'd say there has yet to be a truly bad one, though I've heard... less than great things about Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney. Thankfully, unlike certain other franchises that I've followed into the metaphorical pits of video game hell (Resident Evil), it hasn't yet reached the point of me writing semi-apologetic blogs about games that people seem to hate a lot. In fact, I'd say that its new 3DS outing is one of the better installments of the series. Certainly better than Apollo Justice, that's for sure. I feel like talking about the game in any sort of detail would be spoileriffic, so I'll have to speak in generalities.

It's a bit easier than previous games, there are some pretty fantastic characters, including the three main protagonists though some returning faces really get the short end of the stick, especially a certain late-game cameo. The game looks really good, having transitioned to 3D models that are just as expressive as their sprite counterparts. The music is really good as well, unsurprisingly. I'm not sure how well it would work as a game for first-timers though. There are more than a few references to previous games (including a rather hilarious jab at that infuriating music segment from AJ:AA), and it's pretty much a direct sequel to Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, so if you haven't slogged through that one yet (It's not the best one in the series, that's for sure), there are some things you won't get, for as much of that game as this one seems to sweep under the rug. Play it. Otherwise Capcom won't release these in the US anymore and I'll have to rely on overly-literal fan translations to get my fix like I will with Ace Attorney Investigations 2 once they finish that one. And you wouldn't want that, would you?

Pokemon X/Y

You have to catch them all.

I'm not going to blow your mind when I say that Pokemon X/Y is totally like the other 5 generations of Pokemon games that came before it. However, it's also the best Pokemon has been; period. While my memories of Gold probably can't be topped, I've enjoyed the hell out of Pokemon X despite the part where I am both a grown adult and someone who thought they were done with the series for good. Of course, that gives the impression that I haven't played the series since gold... which is entirely untrue. Even after Leaf Green, when I said I was done with the series, I still sunk an embarrassing amount of time in Diamond and Soul Silver. Black version was apparently my limit, I lasted about 4-5 hours before this computer arrived in the mail and I was able to finally play PC games that came out after 2005. Sorry Black version, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a far more compelling experience in the fall of 2011.

FULL 3D. IT EVEN HAS WORKING MIRRORS. Also I made my trainer a pretty lady. Bet you're jealous!

The mechanics of catching monsters and forcing them to fight for the pleasure of your 11-12 year old trainer self continues unabated, but I'm going to be honest here when I say that if you are playing Pokemon for its compelling story, challenging difficulty or innovative gameplay concepts you are doing so for the wrong reason. For a lot people posting on these forums, I'd imagine the appeal of the series probably hinges on its status as RPG comfort food; predictable, safe and nostalgic. You may notice I've been talking about the series in general terms. That's because Pokemon X does not buck any sort of trend. You can still attempt to catch them all, there is an evil team that wants to do evil things (and you'll probably catch the Legendary on the box while defeating them) and at some point there will probably be a Pikachu despite the little rodent not being anything special stat wise (unless you give them a light ball, at which point its special attack reaches levels rivaling the likes of Mewtwo).

Sylveon and other fairies are here to eff Dragon types UP. Also Froakie, apparently. Hey man, there aren't that many screenshots in the wiki to work with.

However, for as ingrained as Pokemon's core gameplay has always been, anyone who says that the series hasn't changed since Red and Blue is willfully ignorant or on hunkadunk. Pokemon now is far more complex than Pokemon then. The thing is though, a lot of those changes aren't always obvious at first glance and more than a few are aimed at the postgame or competitive settings. Like every other title in the series, you can probably coast by most of X/Y using just your starter, over-leveling them to compensate for whatever weaknesses may result like when you were 7 and used Venusaur almost exclusively. In fact, you can do that even more easily in X/Y thanks to the new EXP share, one of many convenience tweaks that make this game for me. Sure, it means that your entire team will probably be >5 levels higher than most of the other trainers you encounter and you can sort of steamroll everything, but it removes a lot of the tedium involved with trying to evenly level all of your pocket monsters and I will continue to emphasize the part where any difficulty those previous games had was simply an issue of grinding. That's not all though. Having gone back and messed with the DS pokemon games in my possession, those are some slow-ass RPGs. X/Y is a much faster, snappier game thanks to the rollerblades it gives you before the first gym. Throw in super training, a mechanic that simultaneously makes the meta-elements significantly easier and more transparent, and suddenly the competitive aspects become a lot more friendly as well since you no longer have to write down your pokemon's EV numbers and such. It also doesn't hurt that X and Y have the biggest variety of pokemon to catch, which means that if you had a team you previously relied upon, you can probaly recreate it here.

What does it say about me that I find the idea of "Mega Charizard" to be totally awesome and not at all dumb?

It cannot be stressed enough that these small changes, combined with the move to full 3D are what make Pokemon X for me. It's been long enough that I would have probably enjoyed it regardless (the game certainly looks good), but for the first time I am seriously looking at stuff like natures and base stats, and then using that information to crush my friends and the random suckers who challenge me to a battle over the game's constant online presence (another great thing, though I believe it was also in B/W). If I have some sticking points, there's not much of a post-game besides the usual Battle Tower equivalent and looking for Mega Stones (which, along with the fairy type, seem to throw a wrench in a lot of the previously established metagame). It also cannot be stressed enough how easy the game is. Anything else is sort of indicative of Pokemon as a whole, and I've come to terms with the fact that Nintendo will never change it. And if that's an issue for you...? Well, as Tomb Raider expert, Final Fantasy VII finisher and fellow bloggist @dankempster once said: Pokemon isn't for you anymore. Play Shin Megami Tensei if you want similar ideas with more mature themes and demanding gameplay. That's the long and short of it.

Also, PM me if you want to exchange friend codes. I'd be down.


I play stealth games for the story

Transfarring Compatible!

Once again you find yourself on the precipice of doom. That, or you accidentally clicked on this blog thing. Either way, you've clearly made the right decision and should probably continue reading. This blog still isn't about the impact of torture in GTA V, the quality of the satire in GTA V, the disillusionment of “Games Journalism” in regards to GTA V, the general quality of Pokemon X/Y (that's next week's write up) my Top 10 Video Games that are also Video Games, or a lengthy dissertation on the relative merits of that Sonic RPG (one day). Instead, let's continue where we left off last week and I'll finish this Peace Walker blog so I can finally be rid of that game. All you need to know is that I've started playing Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, which as far as I can tell is like Assassin's Creed II and also why did it take me so long to play this game. Sold.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Imagine this, but in 720p

Is a Metal Gear Solid game, a series I happen to like. I still haven't played 4 because I don't own a PS3, but MGS 2 and 3 are some of my favorite PS2 games, even playing them years after the fact. While I am firmly on the MGS 2 side of the fence and will always love the part where it's sort of just a giant, upraised middle finger to people who liked the first game, I'm not going to say no to Snake Eater either. And Peace Walker is basically the sequel to Snake Eater, whatever the heck Portable Ops is be damned. There are jungles, camouflage indexes and serious suspension of disbelief when you realize it's supposed to be set during the Cold War but you're fighting unarmed drones, all of which sounds like MGS 3 to me...

Meet the only gun you are going to use 90% of the time. Because it's a Metal Gear game.

But it's also sort of like Monster Hunter? Or rather, it's sort of like whatever Portable Ops was, but made into a legit full MGS game? Indeed, the parts where Peace Walker is a PSP game that I played on a console are fairly apparent. In addition to whatever solo sneaking Snake has going on, there's a base-management mechanic where you build up a private army of mercenaries (mostly by abducting them via balloon), research new weapons and technology (like better silenced tranquilizer pistols. Also Lime Soda) and engage in multiplayer connectivity that seems to only make sense if you lived in a country where people who owned PSPs and rode the train every day. The game doesn't do a great job of explaining why you'd want to do most of this stuff until you realize that every boss battle is against an armored vehicle and rocket launchers (specifically Stinger Missiles) are your friends. I found this base-building mechanic to be pretty cool, even if some aspects of it are also sort of grindy (namely the part where you build your own Metal Gear). The actual missions themselves are compartmentalized, both for the main story as well as for any side stuff (a lot of which nets you new blueprints for stuff). It's all decently fun.

I'll be blunt here: I've never actually thought the Metal Gear Solid school of stealth was very great. Most of it involves shooting guys in the head with a Tranquilizer and then hiding the bodies while struggling against the unwieldy controls. I actually played enough of Peace Walker on PSP to know that I could not live in a world where I had to use the face buttons to aim, and with this HD version I can confirm that having actual analog control makes shooting guys in the head quite easy, especially after playing some MGS 2 and remembering the way you had to aim in those games. You can even play most of the missions cooperatively with other people, which sounds both great and totally unmanageable (I imagine it becomes a shooter at that point). By the end of the game, when there are more enemies with helmets, I mixed up my tactics a bit, inasmuch as I CQC'd them to the ground and held them up before abducting via balloon. There are also terrible boss fights against vehicles! Do you like shooting waves of enemies with overly-generous auto-aim? How about aiming for the AI pod of whatever AI weapon you're fighting, running out of Stinger missiles, calling a supply beacon, rinse and repeat? Boss fights are sort of bad, and the part where you have to grind them for Metal Gear parts is secretly the bane of my existence... which is why I didn't do it.

The cutscenes are mostly in this motion comic form, both to save money and because it looks pretty cool.

Oh right. The story! It's a Metal Gear Solid game, which is to say that it's insane, there are long-winded conversations that don't really go anywhere, and at some point there are strawman arguments about how Nuclear Weapons are bad. I like Metal Gear's brand of crazy quite a bit, and Peace Walker has the crazy in spades. The main bad guy is legitimately and unironically named “Hot Coldman” and one of the main plot points revolves around an AI built to resemble The Boss. The main drive of the story is also one giant after-school special about the flaws of Nuclear Deterrence theory, and I sort of had to laugh when the credits rolled because Kojima still has all the subtlety of your neighbors who have illegal fireworks displays every year. In any case, the “true” ending (which I watched on youtube because I really didn't want to grind for Metal Gear parts) is the brand of stupid crazy that I wanted out of the game the entire time, and it seems to set up what I assume Ground Zeroes is going to revolve around quite nicely. Seriously though, I think the dynamic between Miller and Big Boss is a pretty good one and also Otacon's dad is in the game and voiced by the same voice actor as Otacon. So that's weird.

If you can't really get a read on my opinion of Peace Walker from the preceding paragraphs, it's because I'm still not entirely sure where my opinion of Peace Walker lies. It's safe to say that I like it less than the full numbered installments that I've played, but I'm not entirely sure to what extent I dislike it. Metal Gear isn't exactly known for its sterling gameplay, so I can't decide if I find the story compellingly crazy or cloyingly preachy. Eh. Maybe it's both. If you'll excuse me, I have some pocket monsters to capture or italians to stab. Or lunch to eat.


I played an old video game and would like to write about it (Kameo: Elements of Power)

I don't think it unfair to say that I've been blogging about some ancient and obscure stuff recently. Between games that (thankfully) no one bought, Russian-developed Heroes of Might and Magic derivatives, and generally terrible independently developed Role Playing Games. Well, today is... probably different, inasmuch as you've probably heard about this game if you haven't played it. But before we get into that fun write-up, let's talk about other games:

Still playing King's Bounty Warriors of the North too. Still pretty good, despite being notably less stable than its brethren. Quicksave often!

I've made the mistake of committing to buy the opposite version of Pokemon that a friend gets (sounds like he's getting Y, so X it is), so you'll probably see something on that in the near future... assuming I don't quit out of boredom like I did with Black version. I said I was done, but they get me every time. Nostalgia is a funny thing. I was 7 when I first played Pokemon Red. Seven! Like anyone that age who played Pokemon, I pretty much exclusively used my starter and whatever Legendaries I caught, because kids are dumb and you'd be surprised how far you can get with mostly just Venusaur. My recent adventures with bad minimalistic roguelike something something caused me to reinstall The Binding of Isaac and Dungeons of Dredmor. I really don't like The Binding of Isaac, as I've quickly remembered. I don't like the way you have to aim your shots with momentum, I don't like the disturbing imagery and I don't like the part where I'm terrible at it. Dungeons of Dredmor is pretty great though, especially with the three expansions that add such great skill trees as "Emomancy" and "Paranormal Investigator". I'm still not great at roguelikes, especially when I get impatient and inevitably make a mistake that leads to my demise, but at the very least it feels like I can compensate for bad luck unlike FTL where the right drops are almost necessary to beat the final boss. I also "finished" MGS Peace Walker via the HD Collection (the idea of playing that game with the PSP's awful control scheme seems like an exercise in pain) and was originally going to feature it as part of this blog, but I figured that would make it way too long and also I may as well get the "true" ending that requires me to grind out enough parts to finish Metal Gear ZEKE before rendering final judgement. Expect that next week, because I've already written most of it. All this Zelda talk has made me want to finish OOT Master Quest too.

Right, what were we talking about? Oh right. Relevant video games. Like ones from 2005.

Kameo: Elements of Power

Did the 360 really launch 8 years ago? Geez.

Is, at the very least, much better than Grabbed by the Ghoulies or most of the Xbox 360's launch lineup.... which is about the highest level of praise I can muster for it. On my magical rainbow journey to discover the Rare games I missed between Starfox Adventures and Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts, I've come to the rather dark realization that for whatever greatness they achieved during the N64 era, they didn't exactly end up in their current situation as a shambling corpse/Kinect studio by chance. It's competently made, controls well and has some pretty great character abilities, but I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the entire thing. A lot of that has to do with where games have come in the past 8 years, but even if I were to have played it when it came out, I sort of doubt I'd have been significantly more wowed. Still better than Ghoulies.

This game makes a lot more sense once you remember that it was originally developed for the Gamecube, essentially scrapped, redeveloped for the Original Xbox and then prettyfied for the 360 Launch.

As Kameo, resident fairy elf princess lady, you need to rescue your family from Trolls and your evil sister. To do this, you go through no less than four (4) different worlds, solving puzzles and murdering things with the help of the Elemental Warriors, cartoonish monsters that range from a plant that punches people to a dragon to weirdo stretchy monster. If this was a Zelda game (not an unfair comparison, though Starfox Adventures is still more of a Zelda game), these elemental warriors would essentially be the items, because Kameo isn't much good on her own. Each elemental warrior has one or two abilities that allow for puzzle solving or traversal (If something needs to be lit on fire, you probably should use Ash the Dragon, if a wheel needs to be turned maybe try Deep Blue's water spray, etc), some of which can also be used in combat, and there is a lot of that. The combat isn't especially deep or nuanced, but there's some satisfaction and fun to be had switching between the elemental warriors to get your combo meter up or whatever, and if you want an “A” rank (The only achievements in the game that seem in any way difficult) I'd imagine you'd have to perform well. Also much like a Zelda game there's a pointless overworld that adds absolutely nothing to the game, and you're not going to find much use for some of the 12 elemental warriors past puzzles that require their use, compounded even more by the fact that you receive them right up until the end of the game, a game that I beat in 7 hours. Forty-Below might as well be the Rod of Control from Twilight Princess with all the use I gave him.

Press RT to win combat.

If I really have a problem with Kameo (and I don't really have much of a problem with it), it probably revolves around the game lacking any sort of real challenge or difficulty. Much like Grabbed by the Ghoulies, it feels like Kameo was going to be a bigger, more ambitious game at one point (unlike Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo is still a game that is occasionally fun) but a lot of that ambition was lost between it being developed for 3 consoles and then clearly being focus grouped as the token “Family” game for the 360s launch. The way the game condescendingly offers hints (i.e. exact directions on how to proceed) any time you get remotely stuck in what is already a stupefyingly easy game probably doesn't help either. There's a certain cynical bent to it, as if to say that this is not only a kid's game, but also kids are stupid and need to constantly be prodded in the right direction to avoid getting stuck. Hey there Microsoft suit probably responsible for this, I played Banjo-Kazooie when I was 6, give me some credit. I'm glad I played Kameo, because it's an easy 600 achievement points and still has some Rareware charm to it, but by the end I was less than enthused by the whole thing. Having played plenty of bad games recently, it's not a bad game, but it isn't great either. Maybe my prior complaints sound like nitpicking but there are also a handful of puzzles or sequences so poorly designed that I had to check the hint to see if I was doing anything wrong. Relying on touchy video game physics to successfully roll bombs at a boss is not a fun or rewarding mechanic.

Oh, for extra fun, here's a video of the Original Xbox version going through the same poorly-made introductory sequence that you go through in the retail version of the game.

I hear there's a co-op mode too, so maybe I'll force my friends to play it. Other than that though, I think I'm done with playing middling to bad Rare games and will probably play through Banjo-Tooie or something as a palette cleanser. Until next time?


ArbitraryWater versus Independently-Developed Role Playing Games

OR: This blog isn't about Chrono Trigger, but I think Final Fantasy V is the best Final Fantasy.

No, seriously. It's King's Bounty, but with vikings and a few mechanical tweaks. I'm totally ok with that.

Sooo... yeah. Video games, right guys? Since my last blog I started King's Bounty: Warriors of the North and will probably at some point think about finishing Kameo. While I feel like any write-up on Warriors of the North would just be me saying “Hey, it's like those other two King's Bounty games but there are vikings and sometimes the game crashes for no reason”. Kameo is totally decent, but the way it treats the player like an idiot keeps me from being able to deal with it for longer sittings. I can confirm that it is exponentially better than Grabbed by the Ghoulies and is probably also better than 99% of the Xbox 360's launch lineup, for as low a standard as that may be (the 1% is possibly Call of Duty 2, but I haven't played that one in like 5 years), so you'll probably see something on it at some point.

In any case, thanks to a thread decrying the evils of Steam's convenience and wide selection in favor of DRM-free peddlers of independent titles, I sort of ended up buying this indie RPG bundle from Bundle in a Box, also known as “Not the Humble Bundle”. Now the first warning sign that I may have made a bad decision with my $2 is that most of these games aren't actually in the wiki. Yeah, I get it, Platformers with art styles (™) are the ones that sell a bajillion copies on Steam, get the adoration of the mainstream press and along with barely-interactive non-games are sort of what one thinks of when the term “indie game” is thrown around. Well, I'm glad(?) to report that there are people making indie RPGs too. You may remember my friend Inquisitor from last fall as an example of “Great premise, abysmal execution”, perhaps Spiderweb Software's large catalog of high-quality comfort food RPGs, or maybe those Zeboyd games with the ultra-streamlined mechanics and grating sense of humor. All of them are on Steam or GOG, after all. Well, forget Steam, they're too mainstream. Forget GOG, they're too Polish. We're going down into the low-budget catacombs of obscure indie junk and I hope you brought a light, because there are Goatmen everywhere.

Keep in mind that these are basically superficial impressions based on playing any of these games for like an hour MAX. I have very little idea what kind of people actually buy these games, but I'm guessing most of them don't hang out around here, so I'm probably going to get away with this scot free.

Empires and Dungeons 2

Is ostensibly a strategy game with RPG elements, like all of those other strategy games I like to play, with something of a middle-eastern bent. As a sultan, you move around a tile-based map collecting resources, building up your fortress and occasionally “exploring” a randomly generated dungeon (which is to say you move from tile to tile fighting monsters by pressing one of three attack buttons and occasionally healing) in order to gain more gold and “honor”. It all seemed a bit shallow, to be honest, and between the three sound effects, the single 30 second music loop I figured I was good after two scenarios.


See above, but make it more RPG and less strategy. You move a handful of units around a tile-based, killing things for experience. I think “Why am I not just playing Heroes of Might and Magic/Disciples II/Age of Wonders/Eador/Master of Magic right now?” and stop.

Gamebook Adventures 2: Rise of the Necromancer

Imagine the entire game looking like this, but actually being interesting and occasionally you have to roll dice to avoid being crushed by a boulder.

It's a “Choose your own adventure” book with stats, not dissimilar to something like King of Dragon Pass (a game I fully recommend only because of how crazy it is), but obviously more limited. Like, literally, the game presents itself as a book and tells you to turn to page X, which is pretty dang clever and hearkens back to a particular part of grade school where I read a ton of those suckers. I'm not sure how varied the game actually gets with multiple playthroughs, but it has an internal achievement system for getting specific things to happen (as well as getting the best possible ending). I ended up dying after a couple of bum rolls, but I might try again because it's probably the weirdest thing in this entire bundle.

Unemployment Quest

I get it. It's a commentary on being an unemployed young person but like it was a JRPG. Cute, but I'm already unemployed and I don't need to play a game that reminds me of that fact. Also it's deliberately tedious, so eff that noise. I'm sure it'd probably be decent if I gave it an honest shot, but ehhhh.

Dungeon Fray

Minimalistic Roguelike something something. You pick Fighter/Mage/Thief, get coins, use coins to buy stats, spells and potions, die because the randomly generated level surrounds you with high level monsters that you can't hurt. I know that Roguelike mechanics are the new “RPG-style progression in games that aren't RPGs”, but if we're getting down to the actual games that have inspired that trend, I want more options and not less. It did inspire me to reinstall Dungeons of Dredmor and The Binding of Isaac, so it has that going for it.

Hack, Slash, Loot

With a title like Hack, Slash, Loot I'd expect more excitement.

For some reason, it didn't want to run on my computer this time around, but being the only game in this bundle that is actually on Steam, I've played it before and I am proud to say: Minimalistic Roguelike something something. I must have disliked what I played enough to actually write an anti-recommendation on steam, so feel free to check that out.


As far as I can tell, this is one of those deliberate throwbacks to old games, and in this case it seems like it's trying to imitate the first few Ultima titles but with a semi-open character development system and an interface that doesn't baffle me as someone born after the fall of communism. Might be alright. Then it crashed and I decided that I was probably good not spending any more time on it when I still have never gotten past the first few hours in Vampire: The Masquerade or... Thunderscape? Yeah, let's go with Thunderscape for a possible resurgence of me making fun of CD-ROM era DOS games. That, or Descent into Undermountain because that would no doubt be high-larious.

Frayed Knights: The Skull of Smakh-Daon

Pictured: Witty dialogue. Also, one of two games in this bundle to actually have pages on the site. Well done Frayed Knights, someone clearly cared.

If you chuckled at the title, congratulations: that is about the level of humor you can expect from this “humorous” RPG. Ok, I'm being really flippant. Frayed Knights seems like the most complete and “Actually a RPG” among this bundle of things that can very loosely be called Role Playing Games. It clearly takes some amount of influence from Wizardry, so I can confirm that the combat seems alright... but like a lot of games that try to be funny, it thinks that it's more clever than it actually is. Your party is essentially the B-team, loveable misfits of the RPG adventuring world, and that premise has plenty of room to be great, but while I didn't cringe at most of the attempts at humor, I did sort of roll my eyes. Maybe it gets better later on, but unlike most of these other games it at least has enough depth to be interesting from a mechanical angle. I think I'll keep it installed. It's not like a game being bad has stopped me from playing it, as the past several months of blogging have attested and for all I know this game may not end up being bad.

And that was my wonderful, extra-crispy adventure into the dark world of video games that are on Steam Greenlight (a few of these actually are, by the way, so if you feel the need to vote up Frayed Knights, go for it) but don't get approved because they aren't about zombies, slenderman, unrealistic promises given by games that are still in a pre-alpha state, unique art styles or zombie slendermans. I feel like I've been educated if nothing else. I'm going to guess that RPGs are harder to make than many other kinds of games, and if you don't have the pedigree to make 4 Million dollars on Kickstarter you're stuck with the money and talent that you do have. I almost feel bad, because unlike those old blogs where I made fun of DOS games and recorded videos of them, the people making these games are obviously still in business and these titles aren't something I found on shady abandonware sites. But that's life, I guess. To me, stuff like Avernum and Eador are proof that zero-budget games without a ton of aesthetic flair can be just as compelling as the Baldur's Gates of the universe.

If you're interested in reproducing my experiences, the bundle is going on for 8 more hours at the time of me posting this (link in the second paragraph). I wouldn't recommend it, but whatever. I probably should've paid above the average to get a handful of other stuff, but I see no way to up my pledge and I'd imagine a lot of the same things would be said. Have a good one.


King's Blogging: Arbitrary Princess

I'm told this game is popular

So hey guys, Grand Theft Auto V. According to “The Internet” it's pretty cool, but I give it a month before the backlash hits in-earnest and a vocal contingent starts going after that game, much as Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us got theirs. Probably won't stop it from earning a bazillion Game of the Year awards because games journalists are a bunch of predictable bastards (the other game that will dominate GOTY awards? Gone Home, because the 90s and games that are barely games are things that game websites eat like candy. Sorry Brothers.). For my part, I'll probably take a look at it at some point in the future despite not being into the way that Rockstar makes open world games and never really being into GTA in general. What does this have to do with anything in this blog? Not much, really. I just figured that being “relevant” is a great smokescreen for when I reveal that this blog is about a Russian-developed strategy game that came out four years ago and borrows liberally from other games that I happen to like a lot. Because of course it is. But first, other games that are also not relevant?

This blog is also about Might and Magic IX

I play old, bad games. Part Eleventy

But then it stopped working. I'm not sure if the problem is the game itself, my slowly imploding computer or me not wanting it enough, as it stands I cannot finish the dying breath of New World Computing's generally fantastic RPG franchise (Oh, except hell has frozen over and Might and Magic X not only exists, but seems promising based on the rough alpha build available on Steam Early Access). That didn't stop me from spending like 20something hours with it before it went kaput, and I have the saves on hand should it decide to cooperate. I'm going to invoke a variation of Wolpaw's Law and tell you my thoughts about it anyways, despite the part where I clearly haven't made it to the end of the game and beaten fake Loki, or whatever. I'm sure those who have finished this gem will object, but I will do as I must. For freedom. And for you, the reader.

These liches are actually the dessicated remnants of what could have been a fairly decent RPG.

Might and Magic IX came out in 2002 during the death-throes of 3DO. Released in a pre-alpha state, clearly needing another year or so of development, it's probably the most obvious casualty of the publisher's desperate attempts to stay afloat before going under entirely about a year later. Whereas I and many others will still maintain that Heroes of Might and Magic IV (also released that year) is both a totally enjoyable strategy game and one worthy of being a part of the series despite some fairly unfortunate issues, M&M IX earns no such sympathy. That's because, unsurprisingly, it's not very good. Oh, I still sort of enjoyed what I played of it, because if RE6 proved anything it's that I'm way too forgiving where my favorite game franchises are concerned, but there was no point where I said “This is a quality video game”. A lot of that simply boils down to the part where it's clearly unfinished. A lot of the ideas in the game, be they branching class paths, a streamlined skill system, the transition from the engine of the past three games to fully polygonal environments and the change in environment to the northern vikingish lands of Chedain all sound good on paper. In practice, branching classes means that your characters will be relatively homogenous for most of the game until they get their second promotion, exacerbated by the reduced number of skills. The transition to the already-aged Lithtech engine results in a profoundly ugly looking game with cramped outdoor environments and sprawling, empty cities. Finally, the new world doesn't really bother to tie itself in to previous games or Heroes IV aside from a handful of cursory nods. It is, in short, something of a mess. Perhaps less a mess than it probably could have been, considering the circumstances, but a mess all the same.

Yep, this is pretty much what the game looks like. It's not pretty, but somehow it's not as bad as it looks?

That being said, it's clearly a Might and Magic game. The dungeons are usually decently clever, with puzzles one would expect from a Might and Magic game (i.e. a lot of pushing levers) and the combat is still that pseudo real time thing that you can make turn-based with a press of the enter key. The main quest is structured like that of Might and Magic VI, which is to say that it's pretty nonlinear and you can go pretty much wherever from the start. Occasionally some of the series' goofy charm comes through in spite of the general blandness at hand with some of the weird one-off instances that happen here and there. The presence of a fan-made patch removes pretty much all of the game-breaking bugs. But it's not enough for me to tell you, the normal human to play it. It's enough for me, the self-loathing individual who likes Might and Magic a whole lot, but I'm probably not in the most positive life circumstances at the moment. If you want to play a Might and Magic game, play pretty much any of the other ones (the first two are ancient but the rest are surprisingly playable in this day and age). If you want a great RPG of that style that came out in the 21st century, play Wizardry 8. It came out 6 months earlier, is also available on GOG and is sort of fantastic in general. Hell, I even have a code for it hanging around for some reason, though I'm waiting for the opportune moment to give it out. Maybe you are that opportune moment! But until then...

King's Bounty: Armored Princess

Woman Protagonist. Take THAT, Sexism!

Is the semi-sequel/standalone expansion to King's Bounty: The Legend, something of a modern take on the old DOS classic King's Bounty, which in turn was the genesis for Heroes of Might and Magic, keeping this blog in the theme of the same 5 games I write about all the time. To say that these modern King's Bounty titles take influence from Heroes is putting it rather lightly. While the turn-based strategy elements are eschewed in favor of the more free roaming, RPG-like aspects of the original King's Bounty, the tactical combat will be familiar to pretty much everyone who has touched Heroes of Might and Magic at some point, to the level where you can probably guess certain units abilities. Hex Grid? Check. Black Dragons are totes def immune to magic? Yep. It's blatant and shameless, but that's ok because it's also pretty great. Not as great as heroes, but of course, what is? (Answer: probably Age of Wonders or Eador)

Unless you're a monster who can't handle the metaphysical conceit of unit stacks, there is a lot to enjoy about this game's tactical combat

The previous paragraph was about these games in general, because between The Legend, Armored Princess (and mini expansion Crossworlds) and the recent Warriors of the North, they're all functionally similar. Why I finished Armored Princess first mostly comes down to the fact that I had a save file around 20 hours in from last year and needed something to play after Might and Magic IX broke. The flow of these games involves running around an overworld in real-time, recruiting various troops based on your leadership stat (another carry-over from OG King's Bounty), solving quests and engaging in tactical combat between armies. The game is sectioned off into islands, and unless you're overleveled like I was by the end of the game, you'll probably not have the leadership necessary to complete them in one go. Since everything is in real time, you can totally lure monsters away, juke around them and grab whatever they were guarding, something that becomes easier once you gain the ability to fly around and above anyone you find threatening, though it should also be mentioned that you start being able to deal with overwhelming odds much more easily by the end of the game, when you have the skills and spells necessary to overcome the battle of numbers. An increased understanding of your tactical options simply by playing through the game doesn't hurt either (Contrary to what you may think, Snakes are your friends, thanks to their inherent reach attack and poison abilities).

Rage is essentially the Warrior's answer to mana, and you can make your cute baby dragon murder some fools with boiling lava rather effectively.

Because of the sheer breadth of units available, you really have the opportunity to experiment, which helps make the tactical combat continually fresh, especially if you don't stick to the same units constantly. For my part, I just sort of ran around with armies of ultra-expensive dragons by the end of the campaign, and that worked out alright because of the absurd amount of gold that ends up thrown at you. I'd say that it's probably not a bad idea to play on hard if you already know how to play these games, or maybe play as a Mage since they seem pretty gimped early on. There are also Boss Battles on occasion, for once something that Heroes went on to steal rather than the other way around. They're usually not incredibly tough, though you'll probably want to stick with tankier units and shooters when handling such foes.

The next step could be into uncharted waters

All this said, I could see how someone could get burned out before the end of the 40ish hours it takes to complete Armored Princess. That's a pretty long time, but thankfully the end game drags a lot less than the beginning, when you're still surgically taking out the armies you can handle. All in all, it was nice to play a game that wasn't soul-crushingly horrible for once, though I still have to finish Kameo (not actually soul-crushing) and then I need to figure out what to play next. I may not have access to video games in the coming future, so prioritizing the important (or bad) stuff has become less of a leisurely suggestion and more of a goal. Maybe I'll make a poll again! Maybe I'll play one of the other King's Bounty games! Maybe I'll pick something off that horrible, forsaken list! Maybe Tomb Raider? The future is bright my friends. Here, have a speedrun.


I continue to play old, bad games (Grabbed by the Ghoulies)

Soooo... I finally reformatted my computer with the hope that it'd stop being difficult. Thus far, my wish has been granted, though reinstalling 11GB games sure is a time-consuming process. I salvaged most of the documents and save files that mattered, so at some point I'll be able to continue where I left off in regards to Quest for Glory 2 and The Witcher 2. But why talk about potentially good games when I could talk about certainly bad games? That's what I'm here for, at any rate.

I continue to go down a long, dark road with no light at the end.

Rare: Makers of fine interactive entertainment!

Hey guys, remember Rare? Makers of fine 2D and 3D platformers, overrated but important first person shooters and easily the best Kart Racer on the N64, they're responsible for a good chunk of my childhood, especially back when the N64 is the only console I owned. Then... they made Star Fox Adventures were sold to Microsoft and I could no longer care, because I didn't own an Xbox the first. I had a 360 when the fantastic Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts came out and I will continue to call it one of my favorite games of this console generation, but it sold poorly and now whatever remains of the studio is doomed to make Kinect games for the rest of its pitiful existence. Now maybe it's time to fill in those gaps, especially since I'm on a self-loathing kick right now and have noticed a significant increase in the number of bad games I've played this year. I played and enjoyed that Conker remake last year, but that was because the N64 version is far more expensive and rare (hilarious pun) than its Original Xbox counterpart, but I digress. Now, here I am, $13 poorer in monetary means and and significantly poorer in spirit. Why? Because Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a game I paid money for. That was a mistake.

There are also a few parts where you get your hands on weapons, but those segments aren't actually that different from the rest of the game.

Released in October 2003, Grabbed by the Ghoulies' legacy will probably be as the butt of a bunch of pretty hilarious self-aware jokes in Nuts and Bolts. That seems about right, because the game itself isn't much to talk about (which is why this blog is a bit of a short one). Whereas last week's punching bag (Devil May Cry 2) is at least sort of interesting in the ways that it is bad, Grabbed by the Ghoulies is just kind of a brief, shallow non-entity that would have been better served as a 30 minute minigame in Banjo-Tooie rather than a full retail title. As a guy named Cooper who wants to save his girlfriend from spooky mansion, it's a pretty simple setup rivaling Luigi's Mansion, though with far more potential racism involved. The structure of the game consists of entering a room and killing the bad guys therein by pointing the right stick in their general direction and hoping that everything dies. Ok, there are powerups and some enemies need to be killed in specific ways, but in general I'd ascribe very little depth or nuance to the combat on its own. The developers clearly knew that, so another core mechanic of the game is that each room starts you with variably health and a handful of stipulations such as "Don't use weapons", "Kill everything within the alotted time" or "Don't kill two of the same enemy in a row". Failing one of these sub-objectives causes the reaper to appear, and if he touches you it's a one-hit kill. If he touches you. You can outrun him and his touch can kill enemies that wander in his path, so in some cases it's almost beneficial to screw up these objectives. It's not like you're losing much progress if you die or anything.

Otherwise, this may as well be the entire game.

And... that's about it, aside from the part where there is a hidden book in each room and for every 5 books a challenge level is unlocked (all leading to a particularly devious final challenge where you have to finish the entire game again in one sitting with only 10 health per room) I won't deny that the game has some of that Rareware charm with the Grant Kirkhope soundtrack or the number of goofy double-entendres going on, but this all feels like it was at some point intended to be far deeper and more involved than it actually is, something that seems super obvious when the anticlimactic final 20 minutes of the game roll around and I asked myself "That's it?". I'd actually be really interested in reading about the development of this game for that reason, but somehow I doubt this particular title is going to be the subject of many retrospectives when every other game that Rare has made is probably more deserving.

And now I'm probably off to play Kameo next, with the assumption that it will have to be better than this particular gem. And after that...? Who knows? I don't. Maybe back to Chrono Cross. Maybe The Last Remnant. Maybe I'll do something with my life! No. Probably not. I'll probably just play video games.


I play old, bad games (Devil May Cry 2)

What am I doing with my life again? Oh, right. Looking for employment, bolstered by the fact that all of the teenagers with summer jobs have to go back to school in a week. I would too, except for the part where I'm not. Living at home has its perks, don't get me wrong, but I'm also stranded in Southeastern Idaho with a handful of friends who are either still in High School or are skipping fall semester as well for various reasons. So... clearly what I need to do with my time is play infamously bad sequels to beloved games, which will clearly escalate until I sink 50 hours into Suikoden IV or look up prices for Sonic 2006 on Ebay. Actually, scratch that. This one may have broken me. But not really, because Sonic Chronicles still needs to be played.

It should be noted that playing this game in HD did not make it any more tolerable

Devil May Cry 2 is a bad game. I feel like that has been canonized as fact by the internet. While plenty of other bad or questionable game sequels will have their share of defenders (I will defend Dragon Age II more than it deserves), I have yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t think that DMC2 is anything better than mediocre (though I’m sure I’ll encounter one of them by the time this blog has run its course). But of course, given my sort of positive (neutral?) reception to the much derided Resident Evil 6, I figured I should know for myself. Also, I finished Bayonetta recently, so I figured that I may as well play the low watermark of the genre just to give myself that much more contrast. That was a poor idea. Or maybe it was a great idea, because now I can write this blog and give it the textual thrashing it so very deserves. I haven’t encountered a game that squanders the promise and legacy of the original title as badly as this one does since Deus Ex Invisible War. Both feel like bad imitations or parodies of the series they claim to represent rather than actual installments. Both came out in 2003. Coincidence? I think not.

The addition of a dedicated dodge button is actually a big part of why this game is so laughably easy

And really, that Invisible War comparison can be extended to what makes it bad as well. It has all of the elements of a Devil May Cry game; you can knock hell demons in the air and juggle them with pistols, varying attacks can improve your score and the writing is probably only good in an ironic sense. Devil May Cry 2 is also responsible for some of Dante’s more iconic moves, like the one where he fires his pistols in two different directions, and also threw in a dedicated dodge button (one that would later be used as the style button in DMC3 and 4). Unfortunately, it also does all of these things poorly. Dante’s moves have some lag to them (the usually trusty Stinger is remarkably ineffectual), different combos are not done by pausing between button presses but by what direction you are holding the analog stick, something that I didn’t really discover until I had almost finished the game. You also don’t get new moves, rather you just upgrade your weapons to do more damage against already weak enemies. Instead of getting new melee weapons that handle differently, you get two additional swords with minor stat differences but otherwise handle the same as Rebellion.

How I played 90% of the game: The Screenshot

Though secretly, none of that melee stuff actually matters because you are often better off shooting everything with your pistols than you are trying to close the distance. Much like how kicking everything was the best idea in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, most of the guns in Devil May Cry 2 are notably overpowered in a way that allows you to dump with impunity, having the assurance that most foes will die before they reach you. While yes, you still need to use your sword and it still does a respectable amount of damage, there are several bosses who are designed in such a way as to make closing in to melee range less than smart. Oh, did I mention the bosses? There are quite a few of them and most of them are complete jokes once you activate Devil Trigger and take down 30% of their health with a single burst of gunfire. Some of them could probably fit in other games in the series just fine (in fact, you fight that lava spider from the first game for no real reason), but then there’s that part where you have to fight a demon helicopter and the only way to deal with it involves standing still and shooting since any attempt at a melee attack will end with you running into its rotors and taking damage. That particular segment is egregiously bad, but may still be topped by the rather unfortunate underwater boss that Lucia has to fight, continuing to prove that the water level of every game is always the worst one.

I actually like Dante's outfit in this game quite a bit, being that it's the one he wears in Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, but what's with the half-cape midriff thing on the right?

You’ll notice that this was the first time I bothered mentioning the game’s second playable character (apparently Trish is also playable if you beat Hard mode with Dante, but that’s not happening). It’s because, unlike Vergil or Nero, Lucia handles very similarly to Dante. She’s faster, her dodges aren’t quite as good and she has different projectile weapons, but you can still get away with doing the same stuff in her short-er disk. I have no idea why the game was split into two disks, given that Lucia goes through the same dull, brown and grey levels as Dante, (the unfortunate water level being the notable exception) and the game itself is around 5 hours long. It’s not like that space is being filled by a ton of cutscenes or FMV anyways. Dante hardly speaks for most of his adventure and only barely starts to resemble the one-liner slinging bishonen we all know and love(?) by the end. Lucia’s story is shorter and even less coherent in that regard. I’m not going to pretend that story is something I look for in Devil May Cry games, but the way it is executed in this particular one is about as lazy and half-assed as possible. At no point does anyone say “Let’s Rock Baby!” in an unironic fashion. That is clearly a misstep.

The ultimate irony to all of this is that the same team went on to make DMC 3 and 4, the former of which I can confirm to still be totally awesome. Since the franchise is pretty much dead for another 5-8 years thanks to DmC: Devil May Cry, it might be fun to try to finish 1 and 4 somewhere down the line just so I can talk about the series as a whole, but for now I have…. *sigh* that Sonic RPG to play more of. Also Wizardry 6-8 are on sale on GOG, but today only. Here, have a speedrun of Might and Magic VIII, another underwhelming sequel (though still not bad at all). I'ma play Divekick now.