By MajorMitch 2 Comments
To be honest, I didn't have a lot of time for video games this July, especially not single player games. School was very busy, and the vast majority of those precious free hours I had for video games were spent on multiplayer endeavors. Primarily, that time was spent on Pokemon X/Y. A friend recently took the plunge, and as he built his own team I found myself eager to build another team myself. That team is now complete, and I’ve played with it a handful of times. I’m happy with the result too; it plays very differently from my previous teams, and I feel like it’s forcing me to become a better Pokemon player as a result. Anyway, I won’t dive any further down the Pokemon rabbit hole. I’ve talked about Pokemon plenty before, and don’t have anything to add past “Pokemon still has its hooks in me, and is still fun”. Other than Pokemon I played a pair of local multiplayer games this month, Nidhogg and TowerFall: Ascension, and a lone single player game, Valdis Story: Abyssal City. Below are some thoughts on those three games.
Nidhogg is great. Can I just drop the mic here? The Giant Bomb crew seemed to have a lot of fun with the game on their videos, and to my delight, I’ve had just as much fun with it myself. I’ve only played a dozen or so games of it at this point, but I really dig the simple, fast-paced action. The concept is great in its simplicity, and the back and forth nature of it can produce some tense, exciting matches. There’s also a surprising amount of nuance to the game that give it some depth, and there’s definitely room to develop some real skill. Managing the different sword heights to poke at your opponent’s defenses, knowing when to roll or jump, and looking to catch your opponent off guard with a timely sword throw offer plenty of options, and the interplay between those mechanics works really well. Pulling off the right move at the right time is what it’s all about, which incites a healthy dose of mind games between the two players as well. The four levels also play very differently from each other (screw the clouds), and I really dig the game’s look and sound. The presentation is pretty simple, but it’s effective, which is more or less a summary of the entire game. Some of the best games ever made have taken simple ideas and gotten a lot of mileage out of them, and that’s true of Nidhogg as well. It does a lot with some very simple, yet strong ideas, and it all manages to come together to be a whole lot of fun. In fact, it’s probably about as much fun as I’ve had with either a two player or a local multiplayer game in a good while, and I look forward to playing more of it.
The Ouya’s sole game of note made its way to other platforms this year (making the Ouya even more of a worthless item), and has quickly made the rounds by becoming one of July’s free PlayStation Plus games. I was quick to add TowerFall: Ascension to my catalog afterwards, and have had some fun with it. It’s not my favorite local multiplayer experience (I’d take Nidhogg over it in a heartbeat for starters), but it’s not a bad time by any stretch. Hopping around these small maps, trying to peg an opponent with an arrow while dodging theirs works well enough, and those simple mechanics can create some pretty amusing scenarios at times. Being able to jump on each others’ heads for a kill is a great touch, as is the ability to kill yourself with your own arrows. Despite not having played it a ton, I’ve seen some pretty hectic situations spawn out of these mechanics, resulting in some hilarious deaths. The dodge move is probably the game’s best feature, however, which not only keeps you alive, but can also be used to catch arrows out of the air. Arrow management is a big part of TowerFall, and if you can perform a well-timed dodge to nab them out of the air, you’re a step ahead already. That makes dodging useful on multiple fronts, and it’s almost certainly the game’s most skillful maneuver to boot.
Where TowerFall falls short for me is in its movement, controls and longevity. Put bluntly, the platforming doesn’t feel very sharp to me; there’s a combination of floatiness and stickiness that makes it hard for me to move how I feel like I need to. On top of that, you can only fire arrows in the direction you are moving, as both your movement and aiming are tied to the left thumbstick simultaneously. Without getting too deep into armchair design, I think it would feel a lot better and allow for a lot more precision if these actions were split up, with your aiming on the right thumbstick instead. As it stands I feel like a bumbling fool who’s fighting the controls most of the time (even when I’m successful), and I would prefer to feel like the game supported careful/skillful play more readily. Finally, when it comes down to it, it simply feels like I’ve gotten my fill of TowerFall after a mere handful of matches. The different levels and goofy powerups do nothing for me to extend its life, and the core combat isn’t quite satisfying enough to keep me hooked for long. Still, it’s worth checking out for a handful of matches if you have people to play with. Especially if you’re getting it for free.
Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Valdis Story: Abyssal City was the lone single player game I played in July, and is a game I’ve had an eye on since it came out. I didn’t really know what to expect, as not many people seem to have played it, but it looked neat. After playing it for myself, part of me still doesn’t know what to make of it. While there’s plenty to like about the game, I also think there’s a few stumbling blocks, the most immediate of which are the technical issues I had right off the bat. Regardless of whether I tried playing with a controller or keyboard, the game was laggy to the point of being unplayable. I was almost ready to give up entirely before figuring it out (which wasn’t intuitive at all), and after that it was fine. From there, the game became a somewhat standard 2D action/adventure game. The closest points of reference I can think of are the numerous post Symphony of the Night 2D Castlevania games. You explore a fairly large world while fighting monsters, the world is gated by items and/or abilities you find periodically (usually from beating bosses), and you level up and acquire new equipment throughout. I will add the caveat that the equipment played a fairly minor role, to the point where I wonder if it should have been in the game at all, but it was there.
All of that played out pretty well for the most part, with the highlight easily being the boss battles. Valdis Story has a lot of bosses, and I think the game does a really good job at making most of them unique. There are certainly some traditional pattern bosses in the mix, but most of the bosses have at least one additional quirk that you have to consider while fighting them. Every boss feels pretty distinct as a result, and I generally enjoyed the process of figuring each one out. The combat itself is more of a mixed bag, however. I like the game’s quick dodge move, and some of the magic spells are neat, but otherwise I don’t think it controls quite as smoothly as comparable games. There also aren’t that many moves in the game overall, and I found myself repeating the same basic combo for the game’s duration. By far the worst part about the combat though, and also my least favorite thing about the entire game, is the knockback your character suffers upon taking a hit. There are many spots in the game where you can easily get juggled around due to the knockback, without any way to get out on your own, and this becomes way more prevalent as the game nears its conclusion. As more things fill the screen later in the game, this becomes a constant source of frustration, and not in a good way. In fact, one particular pair of stationary spikes in one of the final areas are placed so perfectly that hitting either one causes you to bounce back and forth between them until you die, regardless of how much health you have. Pretty lame.
Finally, I really dig the look and sound of Valdis Story. The artwork is super colorful, and the different areas all have wildly different looks that are all equally thematic; the game has style. It can get a little too self serious at times, I found the character I played as (Wyatt) to be wholly unlikable, and I think the story is a bunch of nonsense, but the game has style nonetheless. That’s especially apparent in the soundtrack, which I like quite a lot. It hits a lot of different tones to fit all the different areas, and the music really does a lot to bring the world to life. It also gets appropriately intense during boss fights, further helping them stand out as the highlight of the game for me. At any rate, that’s Valdis Story. I enjoyed my time with it, even if there were frustrations, and anyone who generally likes 2D action/adventure games would probably find something to like here too.
Looking Ahead to August
Fortunately, August shouldn’t be as devoid of gaming time as July was. As of the start of the month I have a short break before classes resume, and I’m going to use that time to catch up on as many games as I can fit in. I’ve already started XCOM: Enemy Within, and Shovel Knight and Child of Light follow it at the top of my list. I think I should be able to do some damage to all three over the next two weeks. We’ll see where I am after that, but I have plenty more ideas if time allows, as always. August is also the final summer month (in gaming terms), so there remain no new releases that I’m super interested in for the month (though Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney remains a mild curiosity). That means I’m able to simply continue catching up on games I’ve missed. And with that, I’m off to indulge in some much needed gaming time!