As is also now customary, we're following up the crazy time that was the May Madness Melange (here in its entirety) with an addendum of sorts in The Aftermathness. When the madness passes, I usually go back and finish off the featured games that were either particularly worthy or, at the very least, particularly close to completion before moving back to the safe confines of console shooters and anime RPGs for a while.
Here's five games (well, six, kinda) that I've returned to since concluding May's month-long feature, though I certainly intend to revisit more of them as the Summer goes on. What's interesting, to me anyway, is how my initial impressions have fallen way to a very different lasting opinion for most of these five.
It's a curious case of momentum: traditionally an exceptionally difficult aspect of game design to get right, especially with longer games, and those that do manage to pull off an arc that remains just as compelling from beginning to end (and, ideally, into a second playthrough) are very well designed indeed. There's no game design course or Unity tutorial that can reliably instruct you on how to solve problems like sustaining longevity or maintaining player interest or a proper difficulty curve that doesn't crap out at any given tangent; being able to solve these conundrums is ultimately what separates the true game designers from the thousands of wannabes presently filling Steam's library with mediocre dreck.
Anyway, enough kvetching about Steam's quality control, or lack thereof. Let's go back to a few Melange entries and see how I feel about them now, shall we?
(Originally featured in May Madness Melange: #5 - Pointin' Clique)
Turns out, I was exceptionally close to beating Wadjet Eye's Primordia. There's three big "puzzles" in Primordia and, without giving too much away, they each tend to concern one central directive that requires lots of little, usually independent puzzles to be solved before said directive can be met and the story drifts into some expository dialogue for a while. I left the game most of the way through the second of these three instances, and so I only had a few hours left to go when I resumed the playthrough at the end of May. Fortunately, because the game's fairly self-contained, I was easily able to pick up from where I left off.
My feelings on Primordia haven't changed, for as much of a furore I made about shifting sentiments in the introduction. It's a very solid little adventure game that may well have been made in the mid-90s, which -- as I explain in my review for Wadjet Eye's earlier Resonance -- is a statement intended as a compliment to a group of developers who clearly feel that period of time was the apex as far as graphic adventure games are concerned and have stuck closely to many of its time-worn conventions. Primordia has a great setting and a lot of interesting number-related logic puzzles working in its favor too. It's a throwback that makes no intent to evolve the genre in any way, like so many Indie games happy to dwell in the past, but it's still crafted with a lot of detail and care for the era it venerates.
The Book of Unwritten Tales
(Originally featured in May Madness Melange: #5 - Pointin' Clique)
Likewise, The Book of Unwritten Tales has four chapters (there's a fifth, but it's really just more of the fourth) and I was partway into the third when I suspended play to focus on the other games being featured that week. The Book of Unwritten Tales actually gets better as it goes along; while the first two chapters concerned themselves with giving you a big laundry list of criteria to meet and items to find from the offset, the last two are a little looser with goals that change as the story suddenly shifts focus. Again, I can't give too much away about what exactly I'm doing during those final chapters in case I spoil it for someone, but there's a clever little twist with some of the puzzles and a lot more great, memorable character moments. It also gives the third playable character, a Han Solo-esque privateer called Cap'n Nate, his own chapter to help establish what had up until that point been a throwaway character. There's also a fourth playable character who is his weird Chewbacca-like sidekick (though he looks closer to one of those "yip yip yip" muppet aliens), who apparently has his own spin-off in The Book of Unwritten Tales: The Critter Chronicles.
I think this game's fantastic. It's my favorite of all the recent throwback adventure games I've had the pleasure of playing in the past few years, thanks to both a resurgence of interest in the genre and how digital distribution services means there's now a lot more freedom for international developers (specifically in this case Germany, since they're easily the largest exporter of quirky point and click games) to distribute their games anywhere in the world without worrying about finding regional publishers. Since I hear the second game's close to completion and will be out in the early months of 2015 (alongside a certain other sequel from a European studio that I'm highly anticipating), I'm now pretty psyched about it.
Oh hey, I also found out that this game has a hotspot button too -- I believe I mentioned that it was a sorely desired missing feature in my original Melange entry -- so now it's almost flawless. Well, except for some of the dumber jokes and direct Simon the Sorcerer lifts (they even brought back those annoying termites!).
Legend of Grimrock
(Originally featured in May Madness Melange: #4 - A Misbegotten Youth Revisited)
Ah, Legend of Grimrock. I explained how a few games actually lost their sheen the deeper into them I got, and Legend of Grimrock is unfortunately the case I'm specifically referring to. It begins strong, and the middle floors have some interesting ideas -- there's a recreation of the third floor of Dungeon Master (let us never forget that Grimrock is an extended homage to that 1987 classic) where there's multiple different areas to explore connected to a hub -- but it starts getting a bit, well, dumb towards the end. I'm directly referring to the final boss and its build-up. Pure idiocy.
But I'm not going to let a crappy ending sour my overall experience. I certainly didn't hold it against Mass Effect 3 sufficiently enough to keep it out of my top ten for that year. Grimrock's pure joy for someone like myself who was raised on the games it venerates, and hearing some of the feedback in the original thread about how tricky it was to kite enemies while casting spells, and how searching every wall for hidden switches was something they weren't able to easily adjust to, makes me realise how well Grimrock managed to pull off its nostalgic aspirations. It has plenty of great new additions and evolutions necessitated by the fact that the original is over 25 goshdarn years old, though they don't all work -- the basic "XP = level" system seemed a bit too simplistic a way to adapt Dungeon Master's "get better by doing" progression, though it seems like an odd thing to consider that a much older game is the more sophisticated. With the exception of the final three floors, which are all linked and constitute the end-game, I was having a lot of fun throughout Legend of Grimrock. Some of those secret areas were particularly well hidden, and I certainly didn't come across all of the game's super-secret golden treasures via my own ingenuity alone. I'm going to assume this imminent sequel will take a lot of what worked and didn't work with players to heart and become an absolute belter. (Well, I suppose "hope" is the verb I should use there.)
Edna and Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes
(Originally featured in May Madness Melange: #8 - Quick Look Champions)
For whatever reason, Daedalic's Edna and Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes gets super rough after the first chapter. Gone are the humorously macabre "accidental" deaths of many secondary characters and replacing it is a sort of aimless wandering around the outskirts of the convent before finally heading to the asylum (from the first game, I'm to understand) for the game's abrupt ending. While there's still plenty of interesting puzzles left in the game's second and third acts -- I especially liked one where you had to configure the pizza topping choices for a group of very picky, color-blind mental patients, as convoluted as that whole puzzle was -- there wasn't really a connecting thread beyond gradually undoing all the mental blocks that were placed on you via hypnosis at the conclusion of the first act.
The blocks, I explained further in the Melange entry, requires that your main character Lilli fall into a trance and solve a little self-contained puzzle in her dreamscape to "slay" the monster that represented her repressed desires. Nothing too Freudian, they were mostly along the lines of a large fanged dragon that represented "playing with sharp objects" and a wendigo (weird bestiary pull) for "playing in dangerous areas". There's an interesting, if half-baked, logic puzzle where you convince a blind Lady Justice creature that lies are actually moral and godly, and another where you fight all the mental blocks simultaneously in a strategy RPG free-for-all which seemed like a considerable mechanical departure from the rest of the game.
Unfortunately, when I say that the game gets super rough, I'm referring to the multiple bugs that reared their ugly heads further into the game. Many times the game simply froze on a screen, or automatically skipped pages of dialogue, or turned the dialogue volume down to mute for some reason. The subtitles occasionally reverted to their native German for a few lines too. It's not like this was Daedalic's first ever game either -- I actually played one of their earlier ones in the same month, The Whispered World, which I fully intend to return to as well -- so these multiple weird bugs just struck me as unnecessarily amateurish. So while Edna and Harvey is a fine adventure game with a lot of dark humor, charm and imagination, it lets itself down as it gets closer to its finale. All the same, I'd love to watch Vinny and Alex see it through to its conclusion one day, continuing from where the QL left off. That incredibly dark first chapter was just so much fun to watch play out.
(Originally featured in May Madness Melange: #10 - Miscellaneous Marvels)
I briefly stopped by to check to see if Eleusis was still bullshit. The first puzzle I encountered upon resuming involved breaking into a mansion from the top window via a jumping puzzle, finding a locked door and then reading online (after a few fruitless minutes of searching the manse top to bottom for a key) that the solution was to take a pair of wirecutters, snip a few wires from an old bike outside the house (?), take those wires to the opposite side of the map where the blacksmith's house was (??), use the table vice in there to turn the two bits of wire into a twisted together lockpick (??? Why would I need a vice to do that?) and then use it to open the locked door. At that point I'd get a map telling me where all the buildings are, despite the fact I would've already had to have found them all to reach this point of the game. So yes, still bullshit.
Warlock: Master of the Arcane
(Originally featured in May Madness Melange: #1A - Master (of Magic) Blasters)
Rounding off the first week of catch-ups was finishing my ongoing campaign in Ino-Co's Warlock: Master of the Arcane. When I last left that ethereal land, I'd already conquered one of my three peers and subsequently had a considerable territory advantage over the other two. Almost two turns after resuming, the guy I'd completely cornered with units stationed outside his capital decided to wage war and was quickly snuffed out. The fourth wizard, the wily Rat King, had moved a considerable army into my territory while entreating for peace throughout, only to suddenly demand a hefty tithe once he felt like my balls were well and truly in a vice (though he wasn't so vicious as to put that vice in a house a mile away). Unfortunately for him, I decided to call his bluff, annihilate his entire invading army in a single turn thanks to a lot of fort tower defenses, shift my various high-level wizards and rangers over to his home base to the north and eradicate what was left of his defenses.
I would've liked to explore more of the world and do more RPG stuff, which is generally how I like to play Master of Magic once all the rival wizards have been figuratively declawed and are no longer a concern, but Warlock's not really big on getting treasure and beating up monsters. Those aspects exist of course, but they're truncated and simplified in the way that they are in Civilization, with the empire-building and diplomacy features emphasized instead. I don't find battles where two units sit on two opposing hexes on a map and just trade blows to and fro particularly compelling, which is why I usually lose interest in any given Civilization campaign fairly quickly and try to aim for a cultural/technological win instead. So I simply stomped the Rat King, my final rival, and took the victory. If I play it again, I might consider moving up to the standard difficulty. It's hard to get the balance right between effortlessly trouncing your foes and making them far too smart and resourceful for their own good (or outright cheating, which was usually the case for Master of Magic's higher settings), so I might be tempted to see if Warlock can pull it off. Honestly, though, for as competent and fun as Warlock is I... just kind of want to play Master of Magic instead.
So here I make all the lofty promises that I'll get back to this May Madness game or that May Madness game at some point as well, but for the time being the only remaining Melange games I can really say with any sincerity that I'll return to are Zeno Clash II, Toki Tori 2, Eador: Masters of the Broken World (I'll have to restart this island I'm on though) and The Whispered World.
Playing Zeno Clash is one of those experiences you'll unlikely ever see replicated in any other game, for as occasionally unwieldy and chaotic as its combat can be, and the Toki Tori sequel's gone full SpaceWhipper in addition to its already addictive and maddeningly precise puzzles, which is like taking pizza and adding steak to it. I don't even care that steak pizza isn't technically a thing, because I still want it regardless. The Whispered World didn't turn me off entirely with its oppressively grim tone, and I did just reach a new area I want to explore, but after three adventure games I think I might just give it a few more days.
As for the rest of Summer, well, I'm picturing a huge desert plain stretching out ahead of me. Which is to say, uncomfortable heat and very little of anything else going on. I've just added to my backlog of JRPGs (Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, to prepare me somewhat for its spirital successor Bravely Default), so I'm definitely looking to knock out something from that pile. Probably the highly accalimed Ni no Kuni or The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, if I decide to go by a "first come, first served" system. Yakuza 3 and Deadly Premonition have been white whales of mine for longer than I care to recall as well, and what better than a long, empty summer to see out some 50 hour plus beauties? Meanwhile, I hope to keep you all regaled with some of my regular blogging BS over the summer months, starting with the standard "Alternative to E3" series, made somewhat more difficult to wrangle together with the reality that I'll need to stick around for a lot of the streams as part of my duties as a moderator. Maybe I'll find something stupid to LP again. Those are always fun.
Thanks for checking in, as always. I'll leave you with some not particularly prophetic E3 Predictions for each of the five conferences:
- Microsoft, after some careful consideration from the positive feedback received after removing Kinects as standard from Xbox Ones thereby allowing it to level the playing field price-wise with the PS4, decides to do a little more spring-cleaning. "Remember when we said Xbox One would be an all-in-one entertainment system? Screw that. We're taking out the TV functionality, the apps, the Twitch streaming, the disc drive, most of those five billion transistors, the graphics cards, the storage, the CPU, the case..." They're hoping the new Xbox None, priced at a reasonable 99 cents and sold as more of a concept than an actual physical object that exists in the corporeal world, will end up winning the console war on the basis of sheer value alone.
- EA has an exciting conference full of sports athletes playing the newest barely functioning shooters and barely functioning war veterans playing the newest sports games. They're also looking to take back the mantle of "Worst Company" from Comcast, just so they can put something back in their trophy cabinet, and is looking to create DRM that beholdens players to work in EA's underground sugar mines should they renege on the agreement to never let another human being within five hundred yards of their copy of Madden 2026, the sequel to Madden 25 they hope to announce at E3 this year. Indeed, 2014 should prove to be very sweet indeed for EA's shareholders.
- UbiSoft has hired Aisha Tyler to once again use her impressive acting chops to sound enthusiastic about another three annual Assassin's Creed games, to be sold either with or without Ezio's iconic cowl depending on the Collector's Edition. Beyond Good and Evil 2 will also be announced, presenting a newer, even more kickass Jade thanks to her new array of firearms and the ability to cooperate and converse with thousands of other Jades in her vicinity, most of whom will send messages calling her "a dumb green bitch who should've died when that moon exploded lol fuckin pig guy is the best" in broken English.
- Sony will announce TV Tycoon, a new management game series that hopes to "The Last Starfighter" the first player to get all the achievements by putting them in charge of Sony's TV division. They're getting pretty desperate.
- Nintendo reveals that "Mario Maker", far from being a fun level editor tool being sold to consumers for a moderate fee, is actually the generic software they use in-house to create all the New Super Mario Bros games. With the latest version of the Mario Maker development software, they hope to automate the process almost entirely (humans are still needed to figure out when everyone's meant to dance to the "wah wah"s in each music track) and create a new New Super Mario Bros game every forty five minutes.