Past Expiration: Donkey Kong Country 2 - Diddy's Kong Quest

Ever since Tropical Freeze I've been in a Donkey Kong state of mind. I also dug an old CRT out of my closet and found a space on my desk for it. So I figured that was reason enough to break out some of my old consoles and hook them up for a time. Eventually this led to playing probably my all time favorite DKC game in the form of Donkey Kong Country 2 - Diddy's Kong Quest.

I'm one of those weirdoes who can go back to just about anything and play it just fine. The whole HD era hasn't done much to change my tolerance to the polygons of the N64 or the OG Playstation. Going back to the SNES was really easy, and damn do those old consoles fire up quickly. No home screen, no load bar, no connecting online or updates or patches. Just press power and go. It's refreshing how fast it is to play a game. It's a matter of trade offs and convenience, but when it all works it's really nice.

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Diddy's Kong Quest

Never realized that subtitle gag until recently

Man, what a game. Donkey Kong Country 2 left a really solid impression when it came out, and going back to it has just about the same impact as before. The one thing I've realized only recently is the pun in the subtitle if you cram 'Kong' and 'Quest' together for conquest. Diddy's conquest. I would expect no less from the series that brought you alliterations and dumb wordplay like Fear Factory, Tree Top Town, and Very Gnawty's Lair. Not to mention stuff like Punch Bowl in Tropical Freeze.

I beat the game a little over two hours going as fast as I could. I've already played to 102% three or four times way back in the day, so this time I tried my hand at the speedrunning method. World record is like 40 minutes or so if you're curious so I'm a little off from that. At any rate, it gave me everything I needed to reaffirm by love for this game. Pirate Kremlings, Barrel Bayous, Flights of the Zingers, Krazy Kremland, and the dawn of the helicopter ponytail. Not to mention those bramble stages and that oh-so-good music. And man does this game get vicious when it comes to animal stages. I know why Squawks is no longer an animal buddy you can ride, because I murdered that stupid parrot super hard.

So Tight, So Solid

The controls in this game are so good. It's really easy to feel the difference coming off Tropical Freeze. And making a comparison like that only works in the sense of the series, as Retro Studios is a different studio from Rare and has a whole different take on the adventures of Donkey Kong and company. So obviously they handle different. But it's just so nice to have 100% confidence of bouncing off enemies without worrying if the game will give you the extra height. Holding down the Y button for running and zipping through stages feels natural. The total control necessary for navigating all the perils of Crocodile Isle, whether on the ground or flying through the air, are totally there.

Which is good because DKC2 is all about tricky jumps and perilous enemy placements on small platforms or strategically placed killer wasps waiting for you to run into them. I died maybe twenty times or more throughout my 2 hour run, most of them involving pits in bayou stages and crocodiles acting as platforms as they rise and descend out of water. There wasn't really a place I got stuck on, except for a few stages where I forgot that pressing the up and down buttons can control your speed of ascent and descent with Squawks the Parrot or air currents in a giant well. Even the bramble stages went pretty smoothly, which brings me to my next point...

The Bramble Scramble

Aw yeah, I know what you want.

Back when I was a kid the bramble stages were like the hardest thing ever because they were levels where the gimmick involved wrapping death around the player at every angle possible. Then they would spice things up with long strings of barrel cannons where one wrong button press would blast you into certain doom or maybe make you fly Squawks through obstacle courses consisting of angry hornets and dive bombing buzzards. Man, deaths were plentiful back then when it came to the stickerbush levels.

Death is Everywhere!

However, these stages always had the coolest, most relaxing music which worked well with the frustration of constantly bumping into the walls and ceilings of pain, especially when that dumb parrot was involved. I really love Stickerbush Symphony. It's probably my favorite song out of DKC2. But I'm still kind of amazed by the reputation it's built up over the years. I would not be surprised if people hated it on principle after crossing the uncanny valley of popularity. There have been a million remixes of this song both official and unofficial. So I feel it's important to mention the rest of the soundtrack ain't nothing to sneeze at either.

Mining Melancholy, Never Forget

I bought the DKC Trilogy album from the Nintendo store back in the day that had all three Donkey Kong Country soundtracks. And I have never forgotten about one of the worst omissions from a soundtrack I've seen in a long time. On the DKC2 CD they had forgotten to include Mining Melancholy that played for levels like Squawk's Shaft, Windy Well, and Kannon's Klaim. That was probably my second favorite song right behind Stickerbush Symphony and I couldn't believe someone had managed to mess up that badly. I had to reburn the whole CD just to put it back in there.

But the main point is that the soundtrack of DKC2 is pretty incredible so missing out on any of them is really noticeable. I could just fire off my favorites like Hot-Head Bop for the cauldron stages. Or Bayou Boogie when you get stuck in the swamp. In a Snow-Bound Land only appears in two stages, but it's still pretty great. Another one of my favorites, which I feel doesn't get quite enough love, is Disco Train for the rollercoaster rides in Krazy Kremland. Even the tracks for the Kong's helping you out had some great themes. Stuff like Funky the Main Monkey, or Swanky's Swing for the quiz games. I also really enjoyed the final boss theme when you go head to head with K. Rool called Crocodile Cacophony. His blunderbuss has some mean tricks.

And of course, I have to give a special spot for Mining Melancholy. Love that theme for the mine.

Second is the Best

The first Donkey Kong Country is a good game, but I really like the direction they took for the sequel. The pirate theme works well enough if only to have an excuse to give the Kremlings cool hats and cutlasses. I also love the various worlds and appreciate how they generally tried to avoid hitting the usual destinations like desert world, ice world, fire world, etc. Some stages had elements of these, but they were usually spread out and incorporated other themes so it at least had some variety. Donkey Kong Country 2 is the only game I know that has a Beehive Rollercoaster World where you go from raiding bee farms to an amusement park and back.

But yeah, definitely happy to play that again.


Recently Played: Donkey Kong Country - Tropical Freeze

If you ever asked me where I stood on the whole Donkey Kong Country series, I'd tell you that it's one of my favorites in the grand scheme of this thing we call video games. And while I could easily place them in order of greatness, I think they're all pretty fantastic platformers with outstanding soundtracks the great controls required to thread through brambles, killer bees, and blasting barrels. Donkey Kong sure has come a long way from tossing stuff at plumbers and kidnapping women at construction sites.

And while I didn't put much time into Donkey Kong Country Returns, I spent the past week going through the latest entry of Tropical Freeze on the Wii U. Overall I had fun, barring time adjusting to the way Retro Studios does platformers, but if there's one thing I came away with is that this game's soundtrack is too good. At the risk of overhyping it, god damn the music is amazing. Thank you David Wise. Give that man a lifetime achievement award or something.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

I think my favorite first impression with Tropical Freeze is the game's new villains in the form of Viking themed Arctic animals known as the Snowmads. The Kremlins from the SNES days were a pretty distinctive bunch whether they were marauders, pirates, or going industrial. And with their schizophrenic leader King K. Rool constantly reinventing himself they were always fun to mess around with. The Snowmads might not make a strong as impression, but they have a diverse crew ranging from penguins with spiked helmets, horned owls that spit fire, and walruses armed with pufferfish polearms. The character is always appreciated, especially when the game is focused on toppling their latest campaign against the Kong Family. Special shout outs to the polar bear with an ice hammer known as the Bashmaster.

Jammin' on all this jelly, like you don't even know

The game is also delightfully colorful. Maybe there's a worry with the subtitle of "Tropical Freeze" it might all be ice levels, but the worlds and stages have some amount of variety. Two of my favorites involve the second world mixing the themes of autumn and mountain climbing, and the fifth world that combines the jungle and a juice factory following the stages of processing fruit into delicious looking icicle treats. Maybe for that reason the final world is kind of bland considering how it finally leans into the ice/blizzard theme, but I found it okay. What's also nice is the amount of unique assets that go into some stages. I kept looking for when the game would try to reuse a giant cheese wheel, but there was a lot of effort that went into set design here.

The Retro Control Feel

Possibly the largest stumbling block, unfortunately, is adjusting to the controls and the physics of a Donkey Kong Country game made by Retro Studios. I didn't put much time into Returns, so this wasn't felt in its fullest until I played through this game. As you probably expect, Tropical Freeze is a whole different beast from the days of the SNES Country games. The sense of momentum in this game is pretty crazy compared to how the Kong characters moved before. There's a start up time to moving and some sliding to keep in mind when trying to come to a stop. Running is replaced by dash rolling, and you will need some time to build up speed to fling yourself across the stage. I don't know how many pits or instant death traps I stupidly fell right into because I expected instant speed for long jumps. Swimming is also pretty tricky and deliberate, especially for the obstacles the game asks you to navigate. Prepare yourself for world four, it's going to be rough.

Grabbing and throwing is also relegated to a different button, so you can't just hold down the run button to pick up barrels or objects. Sometimes this can feel a little finicky as I struggle to pick up barrels I plan on, and other times accidentally pick up barrels I had no intention of grabbing. Bonus points if these barrels are placed right next to vines, and you can't grab a barrel and swing on a vine at the same time. Luckily lives are plentiful in this game. And if you're really having that much trouble, you can always buy more from the shop.

Get ready to spend a ton of time here

The height of my frustration with Tropical Freeze involved a level known as Bopopolis that is a text case for the strange nature of getting extra height after jumping off enemies. Easily the hardest stage in the game but only because you're fighting the controls. I still haven't figured this out, but the timing window is completely different when you're shot out of a barrel as compared to when you jump on an enemy moving about in a stage. This is really, really unfortunate considering Bopopolis is the second extra level in world two. So you'll probably reach this stage and suddenly feel like Tropical Freeze is a busted mess because you can't get past the first enemy on this dumb stage because you keep bouncing off his head into a bottomless pit.

Luckily, I did finally acclimate myself to the way Tropical Freeze handles. And while it might not be as tight as say Donkey Kong Country 2, it's pretty close if you can learn the physics and the way your character goes flying off moving platforms due to momentum. Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky Kong as your partners offer up movement options. Diddy has a jetpack for hovering, Dixie uses her ponytail for some minor helicopter lift, and Cranky uses his cane Ducktails pogo style so you can bounce off spikes or other harmful items you might not otherwise pull off with DK on his own. Of course you have to get there first and I can totally understand if you're unwilling to put up with the journey.

The Tropical Freeze Soundtrack is Too Good

I have to be honest. The thing that elevates Tropical Freeze from 'okay' to 'great' in my book has a lot to do with its soundtrack. Donkey Kong Country music composer veteran David Wise returns to score the music in this game. And wow, does he completely kill it on all fronts. Not to say that every single song is incredible or memorable, but overall the quality is outstanding from start to finish. Even some of the subtle remixes of old DKC songs come out awesome, which is impressive for me because I believe the danger of orchestrating or modernizing old songs is making them sound generic without the unique punch you can get from an SNES sound chip. This is pleasantly avoided.

Everything is so good, especially the boss battles. I think my favorite theme (and favorite boss fight this year) is Punch Bowl where you slug it out with a polar bear in a juice reservoir. There's also Big Top Bop as the theme for the first boss fight with a seal. And with my love of guitar out of the way, I can mention some of the stage themes like Wing Ding, or Jammin' Jams, or Busted Bayou. There's also Horn Top Hop for a distinctly Bavarian theme. Or even some of the mine cart levels (which you'll probably hear plenty of as you try to beat them) involve Sawmill Thrill and Trunk Twister. And I guess I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Grassland Groove music for the savanna stages. It seems to be a crowd favorite.

The soundtrack is so good that it makes the in game music options pretty pathetic. They only offer up four songs for each world to listen in the menu, and it isn't even the great ones. You can't even listen to Punch Bowl in there. They might as well not even bothered.

Here's a playlist from YouTube you can browse through if you feel compelled. I think it's worth getting lost in there for awhile.

Donkey Kong Country Tough

Bashmaster for Brawl 2014

To wrap this up, overall Tropical Freeze can be a pretty tricky game even without levels like Bopopolis making you second guess the control scheme. There's hardly a stage in this game I beat on my first try. And those mine cart levels are scary accurate to the kind of time put into the original ones back in the first DKC. I suppose this can be good or bad depending on your temperament. At the very least Tropical Freeze isn't a game you can blow through in an afternoon unless you're speedrunning it or something. Even then you have a lot to learn with enemy layouts and what kind of curveballs the game will throw you. Bosses will put up a fight and are pretty long in comparison to how quick they went in the SNES days.

But I like this game. I think if you have a Wii U and are somewhat familiar with the Donkey Kong Country series, Tropical Freeze is worth picking up. I think the experience will be much easier if you didn't put in a ton of time with the first three games. I can see that overcoming the new control scheme might be hard for some. But if you can get past that there's a good time to have here. You'll get a great soundtrack, a nice colorful journey, the opportunity to beat up penguins and walruses, and an awesome boss fight with a polar bear. Bashmaster is easily my favorite boss battle this year.

Those rocket barrel stages control like garbage though. Grrr.

Like steering a dead whale mounted to a rock on a train track bent in six places


Attempted to Play: Blitz the League 2

Recently a friend of mine re-introduced me to Blitz the League 2. It's a football game (or handegg if you prefer) from Midway Games when Midway Games was still a thing back in 2008. However, unlike other football games Blitz the League 2 is more about ridiculousness than fair play. It's about making hits so hard you rupture spleens or shatter foot bones. It's about beat downs between plays where you rip of helmets or punch the opposing teammates so they don't do so well during the next scramble.

If I had to describe it, it's like North American football with a dash of hockey player-on-player violence and the dramatic over-the-top choreography and script writing of wrestling. Make no mistake, Blitz the League 2 can be a very, very dumb game. But that means a lot of dumb fun too.

However, I put "attempted to play" because I've gotten so frustrated at it I'm convinced I'll never beat it.

Blitz the League 2: A Boss Fight in Every Play

One thing you may not know about me is that I don't play sports games. At least not modern ones. I've only bought two sports games through my entire life. One is the Super Spike V'Ball / Nintendo World Cup 2-in-1 NES game. And the other is Kobe Bryant's NBA Courtside. I mean I've played a dash of Tecmo Bowl and other sports games when friends talk me into it. But generally I find sports boring because it always seems like an overly long tug-o-war on a field that never changes with an obnoxiously small ball of some sort. But that's just me. I mean no ill will to people who live and breathe that stuff.

Wide receiver Cookie Wallace can hurt you every time he touches the ball

However Blitz the League 2 has a lot of satisfying systems and window dressing that moves it beyond the standard "get ball to other end of field" monotony that brings down more serious titles like Madden and what have you. This game is about character. Crude character, but character none the less. Every team has someone you have to worry about through their Team Captains system. Whether they're the quarterback or a linebacker or free safety- whatever position they have on the field, they're going to give you the most grief as you try to get to the end zone. And man oh man will they give you grief.

However, due to the way Blitz games work, you have the power to take them out of the game. Permanently if you hit them hard and fast enough. Since both teams have a special meter, you can burn some of that meter to inflict hard hits and injuries during tackles or evasions. Naturally, hitting the Team Captains so hard they break a bone or get a concussion is really, really satisfying. Doing so after they've scored on you or intercepted a throw is so very cathartic that it makes the game of football that more tolerable. You can take revenge in many satisfying ways with what could be the prototype of the X-Ray system from Mortal Kombat (2011).

The League of Great Names

I really love all of Blitz the League's fake team names and team captains. They're all pretty great. When it comes to teams, you have the Detroit Devils, the Kansas City Crossfire, the Atlanta 404, the New York Nightmare (mare as in horse), the Minnesota Reapers, the Los Angeles Riot, the Miami Hammerheads, and on and on. When it comes to the Team Captains you'll be worrying about, you have the likes of Cookie Wallace, Ezekiel Freeman, Henry Cho, Packrat James, Daunell Sullivan, Karl Tirpitz, Bruno Battaglia, Kimo Talofa, HJ Latshaw, Tyrell Price, and more.

Helping you put the name to the face is probably my absolute favorite part about Blitz the League 2. The locker room videos introducing each team and team captain. I don't know what it is about them, but it really makes each game you play more like a boss fight than anything else. I find them appropriately dramatic (or over dramatic), and the narrator speaking during most of them does a great job letting you know who you're playing and how much a dirtbag they may be. You can check out a couple below through links. I don't know what that says about Blitz the League 2, but they're easily my favorite thing about the game.

Los Angeles Riot, Arizona Outlaws, Milwaukee Hounds

Cinncinnati Crusaders, Super Max, Las Vegas Aces

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Cleveland Steamers. The team logo is a train. Yes, Blitz is that kind of game. There's also the Vancouver Beavers, but they're a little less direct with that joke. But besides those two bad attempts at dumb jokes, they're all pretty memorable. That's not even mentioning the custom team you create for the campaign mode where you can come up with your own sports team, team captain, and go the Cleveland Steamers route or something more presentable like the Atlanta Kings or (the team I made) the Honolulu Leviathan.

Then I Actually Played the Game

The campaign has some great hooks early on as it hits you with tons of customizable options for your fictional team taking on the League. I absolutely love this stuff. They have a smattering of logos, color options, uniform patterns, and you have the power rename everyone on your roster. So you can have quarterback R. Davis throwing touchdown passes to wide receiver M. Domino. Or you have linebacker P. DiCesare breaking some unlucky running back in half. Or L. Kennedy running interference on a passing play. As you progress through the season, you get money to upgrade your team training equipment. Your agent will also give you challenges for some games like scoring three touchdowns agains a team with great defense, or sacking the quarterback, or putting the team captain out of commission with a well placed injury. All give you rewards so you can perform better.

There's a reason I've never beaten Blitz the League 2...

For not playing any football games in the last ten years, I did pretty well. The early going in Blitz the League 2 is lots of fun. Then I hit the wall so hard and so fast that I got the most frustrated I've ever been at a game. There's a plot point where your team captain goes to prison, and you have to play a game of prison yard football (yes, movie references are mentioned) to get early release. The deal here is that if your team captain is injured IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER, you instantly lose the game and have to start over. I must have been at this single game for hours. Maybe upwards to 20+ restarts. I just couldn't get through the whole game without my captain getting plastered in someway. And when that shit happens in the 3rd or 4th quarter when I'm in the lead...

I did manage to beat the prison game, but not before all the good will I had for Blitz the League 2 was sucked away. Right after the prison scene is a game with the Los Angeles Riot, who are essentially the final boss you play a couple times throughout the game. Suddenly I couldn't tackle anyone, they intercepted all of my throws, and my runs were stopped cold. Either I was super lucky in the beginning of this game, or the difficulty spike is way out of whack.

A More Reasonable Answer

Of course, I don't play sports games. So it's probably closer that I just don't have any idea what I'm doing. I don't know what any of the plays do other than make my guys run/block in different patterns. So when you get to the prison game it's possible that Blitz is finally looking to see if you know how to actually play something close to football. The Quick Play mode is still fun if I just want to play a quick game of combat with a little football sprinkled on it. I think I can easily say that the presentation and team building portions of the game are way more enticing than actually playing it.

There's a bunch of other stuff too like how the story mode features Jay Mohr as your agent and Lawrence Taylor as Quentin Sands. That stuff is sprinkled on light enough that it doesn't get too annoying, but it's probably something that will vary from person to person. The "story" is definitely not the main pull here. But the idea of playing a game where football is even less glamourous than it is in real life opens it up to a lot of stupid fun and more satisfying ways to play even if your passes are getting picked off every other throw.


Starting 2014 with Yakuza 4

A long time ago a friend of mine sat me down to show a little bit of Yakuza 4. I only remember this really long scene of a man talking to a woman in a trench coat who wanted a huge loan in the form of millions of yen. Past that there was a little running around in a nice looking depiction of the streets of Tokyo and a fight with some dumb thugs. It seemed okay.

I was half paying attention at the time because there were other things I was more interested in (and I didn't own a PS3 at the time) but with the dawn of 2014 and the slow launch of new consoles with games that don't interest me, I decided to follow up on some old recommendations. And man am I sorry I didn't get this sooner. Yakuza 4 is just the game I've been looking for. It's got the right amount of seriousness, wacky personality and flashy action.

And the game is an action RPG set in modern times if you can believe it.

Yakuza 4: The Great Japanese Crime Soap Opera

This is the fourth entry in a long running series about Japanese organized crime syndicates known as the Yakuza. These games are not about saving the world or even Japan, which is surprising considering this is an action RPG. No, they're about modern crime stories where the main characters are caught up in a lot of Yakuza politics as people and forces make grabs for power inside and outside different crime families with all the illegal nonsense that entails. The first three games follow Kazuma Kiryu, aka the Dragon of Dojima, as he tries to go straight without letting the Tojo Clan that raised him fall apart because of his personal honor and dedication to family and other idealized stuff.

Like any good mafia/organized crime story, he can never stay away for long as people and forces are always drawing him back in.

Yakzua 4 has a distinction from the previous entries as it features four playable characters including Kiryu, and not all of them are wrapped up with the Yakuza. One of my favorite things in video games is when you have multiple playable characters with different views. Anytime you have stories that aren't related to each other that eventually intersect is great. Bonus points if they're always brushing up against the main plot that eventually draws them in. And this game has a great cast from the shady moneylender Shun Akiyama, the gorilla-like hitman Taiga Saejima, the beat cop who bends the rules Masayoshi Tanimura, and the Dragon of Dojima Kazuma Kiryu.

And if you're the type to keep up on Japanese narratives, you can rest at ease knowing the plots of these games are always entertainingly ludicrous and convoluted. People kill, get killed, plot, take bullets for others, scheme, lie, conspire, rip their shirts off for dramatic fights, and fake their deaths at such regular intervals that it wraps around to the point of being really entertaining and sometimes dumb. And the characters always take it really seriously.

This is basically a soap opera. Make no mistake about it.

Level Up For the Truth!

The main thing (at least for me) is how the Yakuza games are basically RPGs set in modern day. There are random encounters, experience points, skill points, moves to learn, gear to equip, weapons to modify, money to earn, jobs to manage, but all in the setting of a fictional district in Tokyo. You shop at convenience stores, meet shady weapons dealers in back alleys, and train on rooftops or in the basements of dojos. It's a really well done slice of a city with product placement and advertisements out the ass. But it's the kind of stuff you'd expect in a major city. It's really smart product placement. If you visit a bar, you can buy Jack Daniels Whiskey or Skyy Vodka. And if you're way too hammered, you can buy some Boss Coffee to freshen up. There's also Club Sega and Don Quixote discount stores.

The combat however, is in real time with combos involving light and heavy attacks. Special attacks often involve situational moves like if you're up against rails or walls, or if the enemy is flat on the ground or near one or more of their hapless friends. There are lots of cool and really brutal looking attacks in this game since 99% of it focuses on hand-to-hand combat. Considering how gun control is Japan is really strict (much like how it's treated in Sleeping Dogs' take on Hong Kong) guns are hard to come by and often really expensive. Shooting is kind of awkward, but often packs a real punch. But I found it way more fun to beat up on dudes and kick them around with flashy special attacks. Like I said before, some of them are really savage looking and great to use on dumb punks.

There's lots of other stuff, but I found all of it really fun. This is the kind of game where random fights are where you can play around, but the boss fights are always there to make sure you know how to play the game for real. The boss fights in this game are no joke, you'd better know how to dodge and block.

Fearsome Foursome

Out of the four characters, there only one I don't like playing as mostly because I can't do any of his moves and get beat up on by everyone. But I'll do a quick rundown to cover all of them.

Shun Akiyama - The Lifeline of Kamurocho

Akiyama is the first and easily my favorite character of the bunch. He's a guy who doesn't really have to worry about money. Apparently he has so much money that he's willing to lend it without collateral or interest. All you have to do is take one of his weird tests and you're good to go. In a fight he likes to kick people stupid with a funky style somewhere between taekwondo, capoeira, and Chun Li. It's a lot of kicking, and he's got one fantastic special attack where he kind of launches himself into a group of three enemies and kind of spin kicks them all in the face. I have a hard time describing that one, but it's fantastic.

His story is kind of slow in the grand scheme of things, but he sets the stage as it were, as you acquaint yourself with the city and hang out with a mysterious lady who needs tons of money for a reason she doesn't want to tell you. Mr. A also has a great secretary known as Hana. She's pretty awesome.

Taiga Saejima - A Gorilla in Disguise (his actual title is more like Legendary Hitman)

Saejima doesn't have enough arms for six guns, but he gets by just fine

Saejima is my least favorite character... but only because I can't play him worth a damn. I like his story, and his general character, but when it comes to combat I'm so terrible with him that I barely have any fun. He's super slow compared to Akiyama and a huge target since he's like six feet tall. Enemies are always slapping me in the back of the head when I'm trying to attack and I get comboed to hell and back. Saejima is also blessed with the hardest boss fight in the game in his second chapter where you're supposed to fight and win against the protagonist from the first three games. The boss fight is so hard, I thought I was supposed to lose, but no.

It's even worse because I have no idea how to do his awesome sounding special moves like a Bell Ringer (where he uses an enemy like a battering ram and charges them into the wall) or the Flying Clothesline (where he hits an enemy so hard with his arm they spin into the air) and other cool things. Saejima is just so frustrating, I wish I could play him better.

Masayoshi Tanimura - The Parasite of Kamurocho

Tanimura is a beat cop detective who loves to gamble and generally ignore his patrols. He's the kind of guy who is only interested in his personal definition of justice. Bribes and understandings with businesses that employ illegal aliens (from southeast Asia) is perfectly okay as long as they don't piss him off. He's probably my second favorite as he has tons of sweet grabs and throws in the vein of Akido and Judo. His life bar is teeny tiny, but he's got parries that can intercept all kinds of incoming attacks and brush off enemies no problem. His moves are pretty easy to pull off and really fun to watch as he breaks arms and leg drops all sorts of thugs.

His section is where the plot starts to pick up. This is the part of the game where I really had to resist trying to power through it just because I wanted to know the story. Some of his side missions are pretty good, and I really wanted to try and learn all of his special moves. He can even slap hand cuffs on weak dudes to just take them out of a fight early on. Fun stuff.

Kazuma Kiryu - The Dragon of Dojima

Kiryu is great. He has like a hundred moves (not literally, but it feels like it) carried over from the first game in the series and is the kind of guy who gets to the bottom of things. But since he doesn't know the other characters there are plenty of scenes to play on misunderstandings as things come together. The man has a reputation as the Dragon of Dojima and lots of other characters treat it appropriately. The guy is a force to be reckoned with armed or unarmed.

At the same time, there's tons of funny scenes with random battles as clueless gangsters run up to you and try to start a fight with the main protagonist of the Yakuza series. And you just smash all of them. What's also nice is that he doesn't have a problem with guns, so if you want to bring a machine gun or shotgun to the final boss, that's perfectly okay. Great fun with Kiryu.

And Plenty of Wackiness Along the Way

While the story is taken really seriously and treated as such by all the major characters, the substories (sidequests) can often be really stupid and fun with all the Japanese strangeness you might expect from that corner of the world. One of the characters may find himself hunting down Kappa in the middle of modern day Tokyo. Or another might accept training from a guy who kinda looks like Sergeant Slaughter that uses a non-lethal machine gun. Another quest has you fist fight with a dude who almost looks exactly like the Joker from Batman. This isn't even taking into account all the side actives like batting cages, pachinko, hostess clubs and hostess training, fishing, mahjong, blackjack, running a dojo, sexy table tennis, and more.

Like any good RPG these days, Yakuza 4 is packed with all kinds of nonsense. Not all of it is as polished as the next, but it's there if you want to play around with it. Recently, I've found myself wanting more personal or focused stories as opposed to fighting for the fate of the world/galaxy/universe. And Yakuza 4 was right up my alley. I've had a fantastic time with this game, and now I finally feel the pain of everyone who wants Yakzua 5 localized for North America.


How I Made My Fun with 10 Cars: Grand Theft Auto Online

So I played way, way, way too much Grand Theft Auto Online. I would say it's okay for the most part. It still has a lot of problems (and even some new ones) that plague the series. Like most things, it's probably more fun with friends or other likeminded folk. But for me as a guy running solo with no crew affiliations, I had to make my own fun with this game. And the most fun I had was collecting cars and slapping bulletproof tires and turbo charging the shit out of them.

How I Made My Fun with 10 Cars

The missions are pretty lukewarm and incredibly hard, often asking you to pull off ridiculous shit with little to no payoff so I guess it's no surprise no one wants to play them. Races have devolved to Criminal Records and Down the Drain with Super cars and absolutely nothing else. There seems to be only one Survival map that happens to be Scrapyard. And I think I've only seen one session where one other guy actually wanted to play Skydiving. Oh, and I played one game of Tennis that didn't increase my strength stat like in the single player.

However, collecting cool vehicles kept me coming back for some reason. Making my own personal list of hot cars and cool vehicles was really appealing, so I figured I would share my madness.

Collecting Cars and the Import/Export Garage Love Story

One of my favorite things from the Grand Theft Auto series was the Import/Export garage. I found a lot of fun in tracking down cars from a list and delivering them to a dock or hangar. It gave me a reason to pay attention to the road and get out of my vehicle to make a daring theft or harass some unlucky motorist. I was really disappointed when this was nowhere to be found in the single player of GTAV. However, they sort of brought it back for the Online with Simeon and his car theft list. The other 99.9 percent of players don't seem to share my love, so it's one of the few things I can do without constant interruption/murder.

The major catch about this would be that the vehicle list is super limited and seems to be the same two groups of cars every single time. I must have stolen a million Mammoth Patriots and Schyster Fusilades. It's a damn shame they can't make it interesting and ask for like a Cop Car or a BF Injection or something. There must be hundreds of vehicles in this game and they only pull from a list of ten. I suppose maybe they were thinking ahead and realized how terrible their vehicle spawns are in online. Where the entire world only uses four of five cars to fill the road, sometimes making Simeon's car list damn near impossible to fulfill.

Who wants a Benefactor Dubsta? Text me if you're interested! Great prices!

So that's when I decided to make my own car list. I stopped caring about the guns. I didn't care about the shootouts. I forgot the bounties and gaudy Super cars everyone seems to be in love with. I bought a ten car garage and set out to fill it with the stuff I cared about. I recently bought my tenth car, and I'm feeling like I've actually gotten something done in GTA Online.

Sarumarine's Showroom: My 10 Cars

Every car has a story. Especially in this game when people seem to want to kill you just 'cause it's something to do. Sometimes getting one of these personal beauties was a real pain in the ass. But it's worth it. And every single one of them has bulletproof tires so you can't stop me when I'm crusin'. That's what Sticky Bombs are for.

Bravado Duneloader

I love this rickety-ass truck

The Bravado Duneloader (without junk in the back) is without a doubt, the hardest fucking vehicle to find out of the whole list. It was especially infuriating when these would spawn in a mission where I couldn't take it to my garage. But I love the way this thing looks. I gave it a silver paint job, a turbo engine, and bulletproof tires so I can roll all over the Grand Senora Desert even someone takes shots at me.

Ubermacht Oracle

My fake government vehicle has the best black paint job ever

I really wanted an FIB Buffalo or Unmarked Cruiser because I've always admired the pure black government agency vehicles in Grand Theft Auto- but since you can't store Emergency vehicles in your garage, I decided to make a fake one. It also has four doors, which was helpful in a handful of missions when there was three other people to climb in. I tinted the windows black so I can always feel like I'm up to no good. It's also low-key at the same time, so when I park it at the heliport no one messes with it.

BF Injection

Best vehicle in Grand Theft Auto V. Sarumarine approved!

This is my all-time favorite vehicle in Grand Theft Auto V. The BF Injection is so damn cool- that's why it was an amazing pain to find up near Sandy Shores. The game was being a real asshole by spawning nothing but Benefactor Dubstas for actual days when I really wanted a damn dune buggy. This black-and-copper Injection was my personal vehicle for the majority of my time online. Love it to death. I've rode through hell and high water in this thing and nothing but respect for it. Now if only more people would run Off-Road races so I can unlock more upgrades for it...

Bravado Gauntlet

Everyone needs a white car

I didn't drive this much, but I love the look at it. I didn't even have to mess with the white and red paint job. I took it right off the street and it was good to go with no problem at all. I gave it bulletproof tires just incase but never got around to turbo charging it.

Declasse Sabre Turbo

For all your muscle car needs

I spent most of my time with this muscle car. I've always loved the Sabre Turbo. I could recognize the back end of this car anywhere. I mean... you know. Luckily finding a Sabre Turbo is like trying to find dirt. It's literally EVERYWHERE and spawns in the tens of thousands. If you can't find a Sabre Turbo, I don't know if I believe you.

Canis Mesa Off-road

I only had to kill two players and four mercenaries (I hired) to get it

The Canis Mesa Off-road, or the Merryweather Jeep, was the vehicle I had to spill the most blood to get. First I had to pay 7500 dollars to get four mercenaries to attack a random player so it would spawn on the map. Then I had to kill the player I attacked with Merryweather when they tried to get in the jeep. And even when I managed to get away, I ran into another player heading back to my garage where they killed me and stole it. I thought it was gone for sure, but I shot out two tires and the guy who took it from me lost interest. I then drove it back to my garage riding rims praying and hoping no one else would try to kill me before I could get a tracker and insure it.

But man, what a beauty. Totally worth it. I gave it the color I use for races. Creek Brown.

BF Surfer

Now I can hang ten at five miles an hour!

I really love the way the BF Surfer van is based off the VW Bus. Unfortunately, that's about all I like about it. This thing moves at 5 miles an hour and is a really big target in the trigger happy world of GTA Online. It's not hard to find a rusty beater version of this van, but I lucked out and found a pristine clean version on a coast near a lighthouse in the east. When I was driving it back, I managed to get a 1000 dollar bounty on me which made the slow ride back tense as hell. Lucky for me, no one felt like going out of their way to collect on me.

Declasse Tornado

*Plays garage theme from Saints Row the Third*

I really wanted a purple car for some reason so I made it a Declasse Tornado. Of course as soon as I realized that, all the Tornado spawns dried up and I had to really look for this car instead of stumbling over it. That's pretty much GTA Online's car spawn in a nutshell. Feast or famine. Either way, this is probably my favorite showcase vehicle. Bonus points for being a convertible. It's slow, even after a turbo charge, but it sure looks great! White tires are the best.

Pagassi Vacca

Hey! A super car! I can almost picture Criminal Records and Down the Drain already!

As much as I've grown to hate Super cars from the stale Races in GTAO, I figured I would at least buy one. I like the Vacca mostly for how it handles rather than how it looks. After I bought it, I took it out to buy bulletproof tires and was almost immediately killed by a guy near my apartment. He really, really wanted to destroy this thing for some reason. Luckily, even with a busted tire, I managed to escape and get to a mod shop. I guess I can understand that guy's distain for Super cars. Unfortunately, this one is mine.

Bravado Banshee

Best friends forever!

The tenth and final vehicle makes me feel like I've come full circle with the Grand Theft Auto series. Probably my favorite car from Grand Theft Auto III (the first game in the series I played) was the Banshee. You could find it on the first island and then whenever you felt like it on the second island. I didn't know you could even buy it for the longest time considering it's so far down the list on Legendary Motorsports page. But now that I have one in a cool green paint scheme, I don't know what else I can do with GTA Online.

I wish they would have let you put more types of vehicles in your garage like the FIB Granger or the Romero Hearse. I've always loved stealing the unique or gimmick vehicles like in Vice City and San Andreas. But for now, I think I've gotten everything I've wanted.


Three Helpings of BioShock from the Sea to the Sky

Having just completed BioShock Infinite, I thought I would sort my thoughts in a blog post regarding the three games. I think they're all good, but there are things each one does better than the others. I figured sorting them would be a good way to reflect, but I have to admit this will probably end up being a blog entry about splitting hairs.

As mostly solid experiences, the things that make or break them when compared to each other are sometimes small touches that no one but me probably care about. So, your mileage may vary.

WARNING: Tons of spoilers for all three BioShock games. So if that kind of thing bothers you, watch out!


In terms of these three games, I think the original BioShock is a nice introduction that lays a lot of groundwork. You know, making a solid first impression. It's a much slower game than the others, focusing more on atmosphere rather than effortless first person shooting. It has more in common with horror games with somewhat awkward dynamic of switching between guns and plasmids before using each. However, Rapture is a cool place and exploring the city under the sea was a lot of fun. It was also cool to prepare and pick fights with Big Daddies at your own leisure, get that delicious ADAM, and buy cooler stuff.

A few things that bother me from this game are more like itches. A lot of the (almost) sane people you meet and talk to don't have their own character models. They're just enemy splicer models repurposed and put at a distance or in shadow. Only Andrew Ryan, Sander Cohen, and juiced up Fontaine have unique models. The others are just versions like Nitro Splicers (for Peach Wilkins) or random female models (for Tannenbaum and Langford). I don't know why that bothers me so much, but when their dialogue is so well fleshed out I guess it would be nice to have a face to match up in the game.

BioShock 2

BioShock 2 is easily my favorite game of the bunch. I know it's the black sheep of the three, spawning as some Frankenstein's monster from the cold, calculating, ever present hand of business. But this game plays and feels so damn well in the story mode that a lot of the shortcomings such as justification for its existence, doesn't bother me. It was awesome to play as a Big Daddy. It was awesome to use the Drill on enemies, especially when you get the dash move. It was awesome to dual wield with plasmids. All the weapons felt like they meant business, especially the double barreled shotgun and heavy machine gun.

I also found the Big Sister boss battles legitimately terrifying as they're incredibly fast and armed to the teeth with plasmid abilities and such. The lead up to a fight them is also really good as they shriek and make it clear that 'oh shit, they're coming for me' and you should probably get ready. The fights with the other Alpha series were also really good. Timing a melee strike to stop them charging always felt good. One thing Bioshock 2 really nailed, I felt, was combat. You even had a reason to use trap Plasmids to protect Little Sisters, provided you bothered collecting ADAM with them.

It was also nice that everyone had a unique character model from Tannenbaum, to Sinclair, to Poole, to Eleanor and Sofia Lamb. It felt like Bioshock 2 was way more polished than the first game, even if it struggles to justify its place in the universe. I remember having zero interest when this game came out, and I'm kinda sorry I didn't try to check it out then.

BioShock Infinite

While a good game, BioShock Infinite is probably my least favorite of the trio for a number of reasons. The fact I started on Hard out of the gate is probably the biggest mistake, as it made boss battles and many combat encounters really frustrating. Handymen especially so, as they soak up stupid amounts of damage and rush you endlessly with no way to escape their range. The final escort mission with Songbird was such a pain in the ass that I eventually lowered the difficulty just to beat the damn thing and be done with it. It wasn't a slog the whole way through, but there are some really annoying parts in this game I don't feel have comparisons in the other two BioShocks. That boss fight with Lady Comstock? Fuuuuuuuccckk man. Why?

The limitations to the guns and plasmids aren't all that terrible, but it's a pretty generic 2-weapon Halo style. But the change feels useless when guns are everywhere (with RPGs and Sniper Rifles in areas when you need them) and seems like they might as well let you carry all of them. Running over to the edge of a room just to pick up a shotgun or using Elizabeth to open up a tear to grab a Gatling gun feels like busy work. Also, probably due to the hard mode, the only weapons worth using were the power weapons like the Handcannon, the shotgun, the RPG, and the sniper rifle. The machine guns and burst fire weapons hardly do any damage even when upgraded. And that mortar weapon is a piece of junk as it hardly scrapes enemies when I shoot them at point blank range. I really started to miss alternate ammo types.

The skyhook executions are pretty savage though.

The way the story is set up using the idea of multiple universes or "infinite" possibilities played out from either/or scenarios, does anything you do in the game even matter to Booker and Elizabeth? Even if the version of Booker you play as wins or loses, there's always another universe where Booker saved the day, or didn't, or talked everyone into becoming friends, or destroyed Colombia, or was Kanji Tatsumi, whatever. Or a universe where Elizabeth was the hero, or the villain, or a nobody, etc. It marginalizes every outcome. Regarding the ending where Booker kills himself... doesn't that mean there's a universe where Booker decided not to kill himself? Therefore Comstock still exists in another universe from that choice over baptism? Why does it matter what Booker chooses given how all that works? Or what Elizabeth chooses?

Those Luteces, man. No wonder they're crazy.

The ending is very Twilight Zone in that respect with some trippy visuals, which is really cool on one hand, but it's hard to feel like anything was accomplished other than spouting some parable about the choices we make or don't make. Either way, it does make the oddities of Robert and Rosalind Lutece possible. And they are two of my favorite characters ever. It probably wouldn't work, but I wish there was a game where you could play as them, flipping coins... or something.

Then there's the setting, the racism, the religion, the extremes of American exceptionalism. All that probably depends on how sensitive you are to those things, what your family is like, where you live, etc. For me, it makes the majority of the game super uncomfortable. I really started the miss the dynamic of monsters in diving suits, creepy little girls, and mobsters with bad Irish accents. Not to say that Bioshock Infinite is a bad game. I still had fun with it, just no where near as much as Bioshock 2 or the original.


Recently Played: Dead Space 3

Man, I have played a lot of Dead Space 3. I've beaten it four times as of this blog post. Once on normal, once on hard, once on Classic Mode, and once on Pure Survival mode. So as much as people probably don't want to talk about Dead Space 3... I am in the mood to talk about Dead Space 3.

Because if you don't know this about me, I love some Dead Space action. And while DS3 isn't the best one of those games, it's still alright. I had a decent time cutting up necromorphs with souped up mining tools and watching Clarke get the shit kicked out of him.

WARNING: There will be all sorts of Dead Space spoilers from here on in if that kind of thing bothers you.

Recently Played: Dead Space 3 (Snow, Space, Love Triangles, Necromorphs: The Game)

Dead Space should stick to space and spaceships

For as many changes they've made in this game with co-op and the weapon crafting, Dead Space 3 sure does feel like a less ambitious experience compared to the previous entries. It doesn't feel like they take as many risks with Isaac Clarke or the nonsense he gets into. There's nothing on the level of the chaotic Tormentor scene or the gag inducing uncomfortableness of the eye poke machine from Dead Space 2. And even though co-op with the meat head John Carver is optional, the game still feels like it's lost something to accompany the possibility of two players. Like they've lost the personal touches involved with abusing Isaac in his war with viral dna recombinators.

I won't touch the issue of how horror or fear plays into Dead Space 3, mostly because I've never come to this series for the 'survival horror' aspect of it. The biggest thing that brought me to Dead Space when it first came out was Isaac's awesome suit, and the promise of weaponized mining tools. Dead Space played fucking great with its twist on third person shooters in the form of aiming for limbs instead of heads, and Dead Space 3 does too albeit not as fresh for the third time out. I don't think the scariness of enemies has any impact of my experience, because most of Dead Space consisted of jump scares anyway. I don't think that's the same thing as horror. Your definition may vary. What's really scary are turret sequences in this game, which are still as terrible as the asteroid part from Dead Space.

There's no shortage of ammo or health on normal or even hard. I was swimming in bullets (over a thousand rounds for one gun combination) and never had to make health at the bench. The only time survival or item management comes into play is the aptly titled Pure Survival mode, where enemies NEVER drop ammo or health. You have to make all of it at the bench with materials you collect, which makes managing your inventory until the next bench key. It feels like how Dead Space 3 probably should have played from the very start. Unfortunately, you have to beat the game once to unlock Pure Survival as one of the New Game+ modes.

Then there's also the business side of things involving microtransactions which... are really easy to ignore. Playing the game will get you all the resources you need. But if the mere inclusion of such a thing is enough to turn you away, I can understand that.

Cut Em' Up, Cut Em' Up, Don't Stop

My favorite part of Dead Space 3 is the weapon crafting. This is probably the best new thing in practice here, as it's given me new respect for weapons I initially thought were junk. In the first two Dead Space games, I hated the Force Gun. It never killed enemies, it just pushed them around. By itself, it's useless when I can just cut them up with the Ripper or blow them to pieces with the Contact Beam. But in this game, the Force Gun is an incredible support weapon, blasting enemies back, buying time to aim carefully and/or charge up shots. Pairing it with the Ripper and the Contact Beam makes some of my most favorite weapons in the entire series. Great stuff for those fast, stick-like enemies that swarm you.

I stuck with the Plasma Cutter for about 3/4ths of the game. But when I finally let go of it and played around with more weapon combinations, Dead Space 3 became a lot more entertaining. The flamethrower also gets a ton more use outside mopping up the tiny guys, and that's not even including the various attachments to change its function. The military weapons (as in real guns, not mining tools) still suck, but they're not as bad if you pair them up with more useful attachments. Playing around with the weapon crafting is probably what kept me coming back despite some shortcomings in other areas.

Love Triangles, Just What Dead Space Needed!

Ellie, I like you better armed with a Plasma Cutter

Story wise, Dead Space 3 is pretty shaky, but not for reasons surrounding the Markers or the final boss. I thought that was okay, mostly because I've never touched Dead Space fiction outside the main series. I always figured Markers made big necromorphs. I just thought they made Hive Minds (the last boss of Dead Space) and never knew they would go so big with it. That whole thing with Giant Killer Corpse Moons was at least a fun spectacle. No, my main problem is the dumb decision to work a love triangle into the plot. It's not like they consistently hurt narratives or anything, except when they always do.

The end result of this turns Ellie Langford (who showed considerable survival skills throughout Dead Space 2) into a piece of meat to be fought over by Isaac and some other guy who predictably gets what's coming to him. There is zero tension. Where Ellie could have been the co-op player (or at least I think she should have been) she gets reduced to useless load while Player 2 runs around as soldier guy John Carver. And I wouldn't even say that Carver is bad, but he's totally forgettable and feels like an extra who is supposed to get mauled in the first chapter to introduce necromorphs. It's a real waste when they could have had Isaac and One-Eyed Ellie take on the Universe.

However, despite story shortcomings, Jacob Danik (played by Simon Templeman) had a great voice and was pretty entertaining for what he was. And there's still a lot of great screaming as per Dead Space tradition.

A Few Sparks of Promise

Big McLargeHuge! Stump Chunkman! Slab Squatthrust! Beef Blastbody! Dirk Hardpeck! Rip Steakface!

Co-op is pretty forgettable in this game I've found. But the locked side missions that only open if you have two people had a few good ideas where whoever plays Carver sees different environments in the form of ominous streamers and toy soldiers, where the player as Isaac just sees more dilapidated concrete bunkers. It's just a shame that it doesn't amount to anything because Carver is so boring. And that last co-op mission Marker Containment is fucked up in the way that it locks Player 2 into stupidly hard endless battles with necromorphs in some shadow dimension until some vague objective is accomplished. It's just about the only moment in Dead Space 3 that drove me to frustration and profanity.

If only the entire game through Co-op had these discrepancies where Carver sees something different than Clarke, and the people playing the game have to talk it over or think each other is crazy. That could have been worth the trouble of suppressing some of the crazier Dead Space potential to squeeze in Co-op. And if they did that with enemies where every bullet counted... it has promise.

What Do I Cut Up Now?

I have no idea where Dead Space goes from here. It may have run its course. But they will probably continue to make more until we have a Resident Evil 6 situation. However, I still like these games a whole lot. Dead Space 1 and 2 are two of my favorite games ever. So I hope they have a Resident Evil 4 situation instead, even if its current course suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, there are more than enough landmines for this series to step on to sink it permanently. The future of this series is tenuous.

Maybe I'll just replay Dead Space a whole bunch of times.


Recently Played: The Walking Dead and Ni No Kuni: WotWW

If this sounds like an odd match up, you'd be right. But after being brutalized by the drama of The Walking Dead, the whimsical nature of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a nice palette cleanser. Also, I wanted to say something about The Walking Dead... even though I realize everyone has probably talked it into the ground, debated if Adventure Games deserve awards, argued over the characters and sense of choice, and back again. So I'll try to keep talk about the adventures of Lee Everett short as best I can.

WARNING: If you have somehow not played The Walking Dead yet, there will be spoilers.

The Walking Dead (Raking Your Emotions Over the Coals: The Game)

I like this game. The Walking Dead was alright. But I found it really difficult to play because of the emotional toll, not so much any technical or game play reasons. Lee Everett is a great, memorable character, along with his partner in crime Clementine. Most characters were done well enough that I didn't want to see anything bad happen, even though I knew it would. The cornerstone of this particular adventure game is shitty choices, although some are easier to make than others. Lily and Larry especially, since they didn't feel like people but programmed obstacles. Their flat characterization dulls the edge of the meat locker scene since it's really, really easy to side with Kenny. Considering they are firmly sided against you no matter what Lee does (like grabbing important heart medicine, or jumping through hoops with handing out rations) there's zero reason to care about them. Luckily they're taken out midway in the story and replaced with more rounded characters.

I ended up dragging Ben to his final terminus in the fifth episode, which paid off with some great scenes that kind of sum up his mentality. Considering how hopeless Ben is even though he wants to do right by people, all the opportunities to get him killed felt way too much like schmuck bait. Like the game was just daring you to outright murder someone in front of Clementine just to be a dick. All I could picture was some guy with a big dumb smile hanging out next to Lee at every turn. "Hey buddy, don't you want to kill that guy? You should probably kill that guy. I think it would be swell if you killed that guy. C'mon, kill him. Wouldn't it be great if you killed him? You kill Ben, and I'll give you a cookie." Not to say you do Ben any favors bringing him along, but his final moment with Kenny was... effective. I guess he's ridiculous like Lily and Larry, but in the opposite way. The difference is he has room to show a range of emotions other than "Fuck you, Lee!" that the other two were hopelessly locked into.

A few other points, I love that this game gives you the opportunity to subvert the biggest zombie cliche in all of history, which felt damn good. I also missed the radio scene with Carly and thought she was pretty capable until I watched a video and saw she couldn't handle batteries. And I turned off the notifications in the top left (that tell you when people remember stuff and junk) because I didn't see what point they served. It seemed more natural just to play by memory or try to read people after talking to them. The facial expressions in this game were good enough that the text on screen seemed unnecessary and really bothersome. But that's about the summary of my Walking Dead experience. I'm curious what Telltale will do with a second season. I can't help but feel like they won't be able to replicate the impact of Lee's adventure. Not to say they got lucky with season one or anything like that, but I think their work is cut out for them. They somehow have to top Lee Everett and Clementine, or create a story on par with them.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (Getting that Dark Cloud Itch: The Game)

Mr. Drippy is boss, believe it

To sum up my feelings on Ni No Kuni, I would say the presentation and character design is top notch, but the narrative and gameplay meat runs a little thin for how long this game is. Right up front, this is a damn good looking game. The Studio Ghibli touch certainly helps. They've really nailed that family summer film kind of look from NPCs to supporting characters right up to the villains. Not to mention the various locations you'll visit on your quest to save the world. Which is good because that aesthetic will keep you company for about 45 to 50 hours. If you have a lot of time to kill (as I did in the month of January) you might want to check out Ni No Kuni. It would also help if you don't mind straight faced takes on fantasy RPG tropes. Brad Shoemaker used the word "earnest" describing his time with the game, and I would say that's fair. This game doesn't really have that cynical character who keeps things somewhat balanced by downplaying magic and prophecies and so on. Everything is taken with a heavy dose of whimsy, which worked for me because I had just finished playing The Walking Dead.

I had a good time, but I think this game overstays its welcome. Mostly due in part to the battle system. My biggest complaint is your dumb AI partners who will gladly take boss special attacks to the face like it was a sideshow attraction. Things play in real time, where evasive moves actually work and defending at the right time (before a boss launches a massive attack) can spare you tons of damage. But good luck getting the AI for your party to follow suit. You can switch between them on the fly, but there's nowhere near enough time to make them guard or evade manually. They eventually give you party commands to coordinate attack and defense, but it never worked for me. Usually they only serve as temporary distractions to give you enough of a life lead so you can solo the boss on your own. I mean you can revive them, but they'll just die all over again. Luckily bosses (except for two key, climatic fights) are never that vicious where your buddies are critical to winning. But I definitely got tired of trying to babysit the AI and eventually left them where they died. It wouldn't be a stretch that I basically beat this game with only Oliver and two badass familiars while Mr. Drippy played the part of Doc from Punch Out.

Probably my single favorite thing about this game is the mobility your magic gives you. Once you explore most of the globe, you get these abilities to whip in and out of towns and dungeons like nobodies business. Fetch quests and finding bounty missions are mostly trivial things as you can warp around at will, grabbing what you need and getting out in no time at all. You'll still get modes of transportation to find areas for the first time, but once you know where they are, teleportation is the only way to go. On the flip side, my least favorite part of Ni No Kuni would be the soundtrack, which isn't bad per se... but it feels generic that nothing about it is memorable. Not to say the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra are slouches, but I don't think they got the best material to work with. Worst of all is the battle theme. Holy shit that gets old quickly, and hearing the same few notes for over 45 hours from battle to battle felt like it was destroying my mind. I eventually turned down the music and used my laptop to play something from Chrono Trigger, Anarchy Reigns, Hotline Miami, Donkey Kong Country- anything to break the monotony of the battle theme. Ni No Kuni does a lot of cool things, I wouldn't say the music is one of them.

Mostly Ni No Kuni left me wanting another Dark Cloud game from Level 5. Or at least revisit Dark Cloud 2.

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Recently Played: FTL (Faster Than Light)

I'm the Final Boss, can't step to this!

Full disclosure, I don't know what to think of FTL. I go back and forth every time I boot up the game. So I might not sound very coherent here. It has found a very Dark Souls spot in my mind where sometimes it does really awesome things and other times it's punching you in the kidney and it doesn't even care. There are a lot of awesome stuff centering around spaceship management with main systems and moving your crew around, and then there's total space bullshit with fucking mantis men and solar flares. And fucking final bosses equipped with every single weapon system in the game blowing you up with one salvo and then cloaking just to rub it in your face.

I got angry enough where I turned to the internet to find modified files to break FTL's stupid face so I could finally beat the damn game. And I totally did beat the game (on EASY MODE) when I cheated, so I feel my experience is tainted in that regard. It's not like there's a awesome cut scene or quirky song to reward you at the end.

Recently Played: FTL (Faster Than the Speed of Death: The Game)

What a bunch of Space Bullshit!

Sometimes I feel like Faster Than Light is a game designed so no one can win. Unlike the majority of video games, where scenarios and computer AI is made with the sole purpose to be overcome by player eventually, FTL is a gambling den with some of the worst house rules I've ever seen. Randomized anything is a dicey proposition to be sure, but this game sure likes to pile it on in savage, savage ways. The narrative conceit of the game places a time limit as a huge enemy armada is always right behind you ready to scoop up your motley ship and blow it to pieces at the first opportunity. You can stop and fight them if you want, but infinite re-enforcements mean you'll crumble eventually. That's on top of finite resources in the form of fuel, ammo, and scrap (money) which are critical to making it two steps out of the starting area. Then you have the dice rolls of your laser and missile shots deciding whether or not they hit their target.

And then there's your fragile ship and your equally fragile crew. Much like any technical piece of equipment in the real world, there are a million things that can go wrong at any given time. That's without pirates or rebels gunning for you across the galaxy. Randomly generated meteor showers, scanner scrambling nebulae, and fire starting solar flares can pop up anywhere. Everything is out to get you and sometimes it doesn't even have the decency of killing out outright. Sometimes they'll take out your oxygen systems so your entire crew suffocates. Or set your engine systems on fire and wait for the structural damage to take its toll. There are hundreds of ways to die in this game. The only thing in common from one demise to the next is just how fast it happens. FTL is a master of whiplash as one competently played game will end in ruin one jump later through no fault of your own. There's a ton of Space Bullshit out there and it's all coming for you.

At the Same Time... FTL is so Damn Cool

With all that said... it's such a cool game with everything else it does. It's got customization out the rear as you can name your doomed ship along with your equally doomed crew members. Provided you find or buy weapons once you start the game, you can switch them out along with automated drone systems. And depending on how your luck runs, there are a bunch of other ships to unlock with different room layouts along with new crews and weapons. You can juggle your systems to literally divert power to weapons or shields like any episode of Star Trek. Or one of my favorite things is when enemies invade my ship is opening the airlocks to suck the oxygen out of key rooms so they're left suffocating in space. You can do that to ship fires too. It always feels awesome. That shit never gets old. Not to mention the awesome soundtrack and the great look of the ships...

Space Bullshit still happens, even when you're cheating

There's a point in FTL where I feel I'm fighting randomness so much I can't even enjoy the game. So after I found a dead end in space where I couldn't jump to any other map points (a dead end in space!) and got cornered by the Rebel Fleet after having an amazing run with the Engi Ship, I searched the internet and found a file I could easily switch out to eliminate the time pressure of the game. Well, technically it doesn't eliminate the Rebel Fleet, it just makes the Rebel Fleet so damn slow that they're not a factor anymore. It should go without saying that FTL is a completely different game when you can explore sectors at will. You can find a lot more stuff so building an awesome ship feels less of a game of chance. Not that it makes Easy Mode all that easy. You'll still die. A lot. That final boss will still chew you up and spit you out like nobody's business.

The Real FTL Starts Here

Screw the Stealth Ship! (Okay, fine. It's just hard to use)

The only time I managed to beat FTL (on Easy Mode mind you) was by cheating so I could build a heavily shielded Engi Ship with lots of Drones. I've switched the files back and forth many times (depending on my mood), but it's a strong temptation just to leave the pursuing Rebel Fleet off. That's obviously not how FTL is supposed to play. I'm still really torn on the original FTL and the doppelganger FTL I created with modified files. The difficulty feels like real bullshit as EASY MODE is nowhere near easy, and I can't even imagine NORMAL MODE so it feels good to break this stupid game. I don't know how you would make it harder without just killing you at the first jump with five mantis men boarding your ship before you even have your door controls upgraded. Then there are stupid variables like when I was trying to do a run with the Stealth Ship to Sector 8 without hitting environmental dangers (one of the ship specific challenges) and then the game bottlenecked me in Sector 5 where the only way to get to the exit was to travel through an asteroid field. I quit out so hard you don't even know.

What a bunch of Space Bullshit. Fuck this game. I'll break all your dumb rules!

And then I play another round with a new ship and remember how much fun FTL is when it's not screwing you over a table. It can be pretty damn fun!

I don't know. FTL trades on so much randomness that I have a hard time deciding what part is the difficulty speaking and what part is actually just a bad hand. There's a lot of frustration mixed in with the awesome moments of using a laser beam to cut across a ship and set six rooms on fire, sending the enemy crew running around trying to fix things while I launch missiles at their weapon systems to leave them double screwed. That stuff is great. At some point I wish the mechanics in FTL was in a more traditional game where there was a story with a cast of characters and it didn't feel so unfairly brutal- but at the same time I feel like that would be selling this game short. Maybe I just want more games to rip off FTL so I might be able to beat something like this legitimately. Or at least have some true Easy Mode that's actually easy? Mantis men invaded my ship and destroyed my oxygen system so it's getting hard to process logic.

At the very least I hope I can reach some stage of acceptance concerning FTL.


Recently Played: Deus Ex - Human Revolution

I'm not overly knowledgeable of the first Deus Ex. To give you a point of reference, I did play the Ellis Island mission at a friends house years and years ago. But that's been awhile, so when I talk about Human Revolution I don't mean to make any comparisons to the series at large. So the stuff I find good, bad, or novel is probably older than I realize. I just felt compelled to make that disclaimer just in case.

Because I had a lot of fun with Human Revolution and its particular brand of the future. I also did a lot of sneaking and broke a lot of limbs in the process.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Breaking Into Everything: The Game)

There are some cool weapons and tools in this game. Like this Shotgun

I mostly played Human Revolution as the sneaky-sneaky type armed with a taser, the PEPS, a tranquiler rifle, and lots of fast talking. I didn't go pacifist though, as I had a shotgun for when things got heated. Also some robots I blew up killed a few guards in the process, so there's that. And I hacked a lot. I tried to hack everything I came across. There was a moment in the Sarif Industries building where I was following an e-mail trail about stolen drugs by going from office to office and cracking every computer I could find. Right there, I realized I was probably going to break into every single door, system, and building I could if it was possible. Luckily this only got old around the very last area, so it never felt like a real chore. It was always awesome to find ammo caches and money... even if I didn't use half of it. I think most of the fun I got out of this game was exploring everything. The Police Station was especially fun when I grabbed everything out of the armory.

The controls took some adjusting, but I didn't mind the shooting system. There were a few times when I took an assault rifle or the heavy rifle and tried to shoot my way into a few places just to see how it would work. Kinda wish I had invested upgrades to the targeting and recoil systems in that case, but even when I was going silent, it was fun to lure guards into corners and choke them unconscious or taze them silly. Kind of limited animations for the take downs, but there are some good ones in there. My favorite is probably where Adam Jenson folds a guys arm backwards and snaps it in a few places before punching the guy out. It's kind of hard to imagine that as non-lethal... but this is the future where you can get an artificial limb with a blade inside it so maybe it's not a huge deal.

Adam Jensen, the Aug that Fights Crime

I asked for the truth, asshole

One of my favorite parts of this game (besides hacking everything) involved the side quests. They weren't the usual "go find this thing, or kill that guy" deal, although that kind of stuff eventually figured into it. Since Adam Jensen is former SWAT of future Detroit turned super security guard, there are more than a few opportunities to get your investigation on where you're in pursuit of information rather than items. I really liked talking to people (since I had invested in the persuasion ability) and making them tell me everything I wanted to know. A few missions dig into Jensen's past, which had the right amount of mystery to it even when you reach the end of the trail. When you end up traveling to China, dealing with the local prostitutes and pimps made for a fairly cool diversion where you could frame a guy with drugs or throw him off the roof to stage an accident depending on how you deal with situations.

The down-to-earth nature of the side missions made me realize that I didn't really enjoy the main story nearly as much. Where you start out as a security guard saved from death by cybernetic technology and get sent to investigate the people who tried to kill you, the story can't help but spiral out to involve the fate of humanity, the future of artificial body parts, and long time conspiracies even characters in the game can't help but take shots at in a few scenes. Maybe it's usual for Deus Ex, but I think I would have preferred a little more grounded story involving corporate espionage or really taking aim at why Adam's boss and his doctor love interest are so interested in him. Maybe a crime drama or something to put it another way, especially since there are characters I like in this game. I think games at large should pull back from dealing with the fate of the world/humanity. Especially when high stakes like that usually hurt the ending of the game since it becomes impossible to wrap things up in a satisfying manner.

I didn't think the end of Human Revolution was the worst thing in the world, but it definitely stood out in a bad way.

How about them Boss Fights?

When Human Revolution came out, I heard the boss fights caught a lot of flak. If I'm not mistaken they were also patched or something. Either way, I didn't mind them so much. Considering I tried my best not to kill anyone, having a moment in the game where you actually had to go lethal was cathartic where I didn't have to worry about limiting casualties or being careful. The first boss fight with Barrett ended up being pretty entertaining because I shocked him with the taser and then threw explosive barrels and gas canisters at him until I won. For the second with the stealth lady, I played around with a bunch of grenades I had saved up from the mission leading up to her. By the third fight, I had enough inventory for a heavy rifle and shot up the place with hundreds of rounds. Of course, I really look forward to boss fights in a game.

I've heard that the first Deus Ex game gave you a lot more options dealing with bosses like ignoring them, or talking them down before a shot was fired or something. Which does sound really appealing if there was an option to be so damn sneaky, you could bypass a boss or find some covert way to take care of them. But for what they were, they weren't bad. Maybe except the last boss which was a kind of weird and freaky, and had tons of annoying invincible turrets (or at least I couldn't find a way to get rid of them) so I guess it wasn't all good.

Small, Unimportant Bits

To be honest, I totally picked the "I didn't ask for this" line when it came up in the game. I couldn't help it. I also thought Adam Jensen was voiced by a guy from a show called Leverage. There's an actor with long hair that has a really similar voice.

But overall, I really enjoyed Human Revolution.