These days most of what I write comes in the form of a monthly bigh post about a single game, or maybe a couple games, but it's been a bit since the last game I played that I felt like I could squeeze out that many words about. It's been a little over a month, but I realized I've played a decent number of games this year that I haven't written about at all, so here's a "rapid fire" (some of them I had Things to Say) blog about those games, in something approximating the order I played them.
Yakuza Kiwami 1 & 2.
Prior to this year, I hadn't played any version of the first two Yakuza games. I jumped on with 3 on the PS3, which worked out just fine given it featured lengthy recaps of the first two games. But that was a long time ago now (about eight years), and through the magic of it being included in PlayStation Plus, I finally played Yakuza Kiwami. And a while later, Kiwami 2 (which I paid money for).
They're both interesting takes on remakes. Completely redone mechanically/graphically using newer games as templates, but with mostly the same story, down to (I believe) even the same voiced lines. Just with some new things scattered in here and there, including new dialog and side story stuff around the edges.
In Kiwami 1, the biggest addition is the Majima Everywhere system, which is probably my favorite part of the game. Majima is such a goofy, funny character, and all the bizarre ways he ambushes Kiryu are silly and fun. Popping out of sewers, hiding under those giant cones I love so much, pretending to be a zombie, it's all fun. At least mostly fun, because Majima in drag is, well, let's say I think it leans a tad into Yakuza's less good side, but I don't want to get into a discussion about drag, let's just say I'm not a fan (but it's also still far from the worst transphobia the series has ever had).
It can get a bit tedious to level up the Majima Everywhere system/the Dragon of Dojima fighting style, and I didn't see it through fully to the end. That feels like a trend of these games, especially the last few of them, honestly. Having these side stories/systems that require so much time and energy being spent on them. 0 had the real estate and hostess clubs, 6 had the baseball team and the gang management, and 5 had a bunch of similar stuff. Nothing against the games having lots of content, but when the base activities aren't super fun (and none of them have ever been as fun as the core fighting in these games), I just don't feel the drive to do them.
And that feeling was something I had with a lot of Kiwami 1. It really feels like the first in the series, because most of the main story is forgettable, and not that interesting. The substories are even worse, and this was the first time when I played one of these games where I ended up skipping most of them. The ones I did do weren't that interesting, and none of the others that I found seemed like they'd be any better.
That said, I am glad to have finally played a version of the first Yakuza game, since even with all their faults, this is still a series I like a whole lot.
Now, Kiwami 2? That's a great game. I would say it's probably in my top three favorites for the series. Below 0, and probably tied with 4 (but it's been so long since I played 4 that I'd really have to go through it again to reevaluate it). It's not only a huge improvement over the previous game in terms of storytelling/writing/just about everything, it's also a better game mechanically than Yakuza 6.
Which, for context, while Kiwami 1 used the fighting systems and stuff from 0, Kiwami 2 used all the stuff from 6. But my issues with the mechanical side of 6 were addressed! Yes, the game still has a baffling five types of XP, but it's much more even in how it distributes them, what's required for abilities, and it no longer feels like there's more ways to spend XP on getting XP faster than on actual abilities. Plus, more importantly, while there are still upgrades to attack speed, the default is peppy enough that the early chunks of the game didn't feel like a total slog.
And unlike 6, Kiwami 2 actually has a good story, with fun twists and turns, and lots of nonsense along the way. Including one section where Kiryu goes to a castle, which then splits in twain while ANOTHER CASTLE rises from the earth??? Then he runs through this castle, dodges spikes, SHOOTING NINJAS AND SAMURAI WITH A GATTLING GUN, and it all culminates in A FIGHT WITH TIGERS. PLURAL.
The substories are great, and while I didn't partake much in the newly added hostess club or Majima Construction Company (pseudo tower defense?) stuff, the Majima mini-campaign was all right. It felt very tacked on in some ways, and was definitely fan service-y, but it had some worthwhile moments.
And, importantly, it's rejuvenated not just my love of the series, but also my faith in that studio to actually make good games, after how shaken I was with the disappointing 6. I'm confident again that Judgment will be a solid game, even if I'm a bit upset about them removing that one actor for using drugs. Especially in a GAME ABOUT CRIME, it's just so ludicrous to me, to remove someone entirely from it just because a drug test said he used cocaine. It'd be one thing if he murdered someone, or committed a truly bad crime like that, but this?
But I guess the ethics of the criminalization of drugs, and Japan's especially hardline societal stance on them are well beyond the scope of what I'm writing about here. Suffice it to say that I don't think prisons are the solution, and neither is shunning people from society/removing them from games or the Japanese dub of Frozen 2.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered.
A lot has happened in the time since this game's original 2007 release, and a lot had happened even leading up to that game, that I didn't think about at the time. Back then, I played through the campaign, had a lot of fun, and didn't think about it beyond that.
But now, when America is almost eighteen years into a never ending war in Afghanistan, and I've become much more politically aware (which isn't to say I wasn't then, I was very much anti-Iraq War/the Bush administration, at least, but still too clueless to think about imagery), it was hard for me to enjoy a game where so much of it is clearly invoking these modern conflicts, and in those settings. Mechanically, it's still fun, visually it's a much bigger upgrade than most remasters get, and I enjoyed parts of it.
But I just couldn't get those thoughts about the world, how all these conflicts are still going, and how much I've grown to hate all that stuff in the real world as I played it. And this is all from the point of view of someone who lives in New England and doesn't even know anyone who partook in it, or anything.
Like, that's the thing that bothers me. Every day (maybe not every day, I don't know, but you know what I mean) people are still being killed by the US military, whether it's drone strikes, ground forces, or whatever. And not to get on my anti-war soapbox, but it sucks. And this game really cemented for me why I don't think I can enjoy 'modern military' games any more. I can't play them without thinking about the endless slaughter that the US unleashes upon certain parts of the world, and I kinda feel disappointed in past me, in retrospect, for playing and enjoying these games without ever thinking about this stuff critically.
It is what it is. I'm glad to have re-experienced the game, to remind myself of what once was. It's definitely an important game in terms of its influences on game design across the generation, and beyond, and it's fascinating to look at it through a modern lens.
It's also disturbing at how many modern military games were spawned in its image, and could be continued to spawn, if the rumors of a "Modern Warfare 4" this year are true.
I'll just say I don't think I'll be playing it.
Bulletstorm Full Clip Edition.
Another interesting remaster to revisit. Less of a visual upgrade, and also fewer nagging thoughts ruining the fun, compared to CoD 4. But still some. As fun as the game still is to play, the writing, which was largely bad at the time, is even worse today. The only joke I remember laughing at is one about, "make like a kaiser and roll," and I think it's kind of absurd that they made a kaiser roll joke. They're good for sandwiches.
But in terms of what really bothered me with the writing now, I'm not talking about all the bad lewd jokes about foul language and those things. Like, there's a lot of talk about "savages" and things like that which are, on the surface, whatever, but they kinda invoke a lot of things around colonial conquest of indigenous peoples, and... Okay, I know I'm 100% on my "woke bullshit" bullshit now, and I get it. You don't want to read about it. But it was a thing going through my head as I played it, so I'm mentioning it.
Will say though, the game part is still a lot of fun. That part is as good as it ever was, and I wasn't bothered enough by the bad writing (which is bad) for it to ruin my fun. But it'd be a much better game if the existing script was completely thrown out and replaced with something a bit less immature.
But keep in the kaiser roll line. And add a bunch more bread jokes, because I love bread. I knead more bread jokes in my life.
When glancing over the games I've written about this year, I was surprised to see Apex Legends hadn't gotten more than a passing reference in my take on Anthem. Which is a shame, because Apex Legends is a much better game than Anthem is, and probably will ever be, if I'm reading the winds right (I have serious doubts EA is going to let BioWare keep working on Anthem long enough for it to have its Taken King/Forsaken style rebirth).
Prior to Apex Legends (ApeLeg), my only real experience with the Battle Royale genre was trying Fortnite for an hour or two a couple years ago, and nothing about that grabbed me in any way. And, honestly, the first hour or so that I played of ApeLeg didn't either. The fact that I was so down on it not being Titanfall 3, not having Titans, or even walling running didn't help. But once I got past that, and realized those were all decisions for the better of this being a fair game, I was into it. Sure, the matches have their lulls, but the tension, the sudden escalation into combat, and the thrill of victory all make it worth it.
Not to say I win all that much. Or play that much, these days. I had a while there where I was playing a bit with randos, and winning some of those matches (at least one of which, I was the taking charge and led my team to victory!), but mostly I play with a couple specific friends. And these days, that means once every couple of weeks, if I'm lucky.
And honestly, even if we mostly don't win, that's more fun, because of all our goofy in jokes, our love of the swamp, and things of that nature.
But let me tell you a story about one match. A friend, let's call him "Ross," and I were matched up with a third person, through the magic of matchmaking. And this person (who you can see in the screenshot), most importantly, had Thor in their username. So, "Ross" and I, both fans of Marvel and Norse mythology, started making jokes about how we were playing with the real Thor. And, given their super aggressive play style, doing things like running back outside the ring, into the damaging zone to finish off players, it really felt like we WERE playing with the real Thor!
And you know what? With the power of Asgard on our side, we won that match. So, thank you, Thor. Both for helping us in that great match, and also for being one of my favorite Avengers, and if not the strongest Avenger, then definitely the hottest one. (Not to get into Endgame, but also, what a great movie (aside from a few specific things, but I'll not get into that here either)).
I suppose I could, amongst all this jumble, say what it is that I like about ApeLeg. It feels good to play, I like the cast of characters (biggest boi Gibraltar is my favorite), and additions like pinging and respawning help make it a more inviting game to play. Of course, I've heard that Fortnite stole some or all of those things, and hopefully the people who play that enjoy those features. I'm sure the poor devs at Epic who worked overtime crunching to get it in didn't enjoy making them.
I think that's all I have to say. It's a great game, and I'd love to play more of it. I just don't on my own because it requires too much attention to audio to work as a podcast game, and I'm a broken human being who feels a need to do that if I'm not playing a game that's got a story or some other compelling thing. You know?
Friends who I play ApeLeg with, if you're reading this, we should play ApeLeg.
Super Climb Up.
Normally the games I play are heavily influenced by where I play them: On console. There, most of the games seem to either be the biggest of the bigh AAA, or the sort of mid-tier indie games that have risen up to fill the gap of the mid tier bigh games that aren't nearly as prevalent as they used to be. Obviously this isn't universally true, but of the games I tend to play, it pretty much is.
Which is all preamble to explain why you've never heard of this game. It's a truly independent game, in that it was made primarily by one person (I think someone else might've helped with the music, I'd have to check the credits to be sure), and (again to the best of my knowledge), only for sale on Itch (a fine internet store with a great many things available).
As for the game itself, it's a fun little platformer that reminds me of Ice Climbers. Though, I say that knowing full well that I've never actually played Ice Climbers. But it's that sort of climb to the top of the level game (though later ones do also have side scrolling). It's fun, it's cute, and if you have a few bucks to spare, I'd say give it a shot! Only real complaint was that getting my controller to work was a bit finicky, but I blame that more on using a PS4 controller instead of an Xbox One one, which seems like it has more built in support for these things (but I like the DS4 better/don't have any XBone controllers).
Support people who make small games!
Plus, it has cute mammoths!
Slime Rancher is an adorable game. The slimes are just so cute, and I want to hug them all. ALL OF THEM. Just so adorable, and cuddly, and huggable!
It's also a game that feels like if you are predisposed to min-maxing (which I am), it encourages stuffing as many slimes as you can into tiny enclosures, and stuffing them with food to maximize Plort creation, and thus profits. In some weird, I hope unintentional ways, it feels like a mirror of real world farming/ranching. Stuff as many animals into as tight a space as possible.
Honestly, aside from the framerate being kinda sluggish on PS4 (or at least with V-Sync on, but the screen tearing was even more distracting), my biggest issue with the game is that the enclosures look too small. I know there is some capacity for free range ranching, but you can't really do that with too many different types of slimes, because if they start eating the Plorts of other slimes, they turn into hybrid slimes, and if they keep eating other Plorts, then they become Tarr. And that's no good, because Tarr eat slimes, and the next thing you know, you've lost a bunch of slimes and feel terrible.
But, some mistakes aside, I enjoyed my time with Slime Rancher. It's fun, and adorable, and also about the extent of the sort of farming games I want to play. Not that I think I wouldn't enjoy something with deeper farming, but because if I got that obsessive over Slime Rancher, something like Stardew Valley would consume me. So, I'm just going to stay away from that.
Besides, Stardew Valley doesn't have adorable slime friends that I want to hug.
DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition.
No, I still haven't played DMC5. I will, eventually. But, with that DMC itch in my veins, and this version on sale, I bought it, and played it! And, I have to say, even after all these years, it holds up! Mostly.
In some ways, I think it's better than ever. Unlike the old console versions, this runs at 60 FPS, and has a new Turbo Mode, where everything (minus cutscenes and dialog) is 20% faster. Now, you might be thinking, "Why would you want the game to be over 20% faster if you like it so much?" Or, maybe that was just me thinking that. But, after my initial thought of, "This is too fast!!!!" I came to find Turbo Mode my favorite way to play. It's faster, more responsive, and the timing is a lot tighter, which makes it a bit more challenging in some ways. I like that a lot, and it's now the only way for me to play this game.
The game's style is still just so absurd, but when paired with how wild, and dynamic the level design is, it works, and it's rad. Seeing the levels shifting, flying, moving around in real time is still cool, because there's still so few games that do things like this. Yeah, it's totally scripted, and not really "dynamic" in a literal sense, but it keeps the game fresh throughout.
Plus, hearing a voice scream "SSSENSATIONAL" in a death metal guttural growl got me giggling more often than not.
So, as an action game, DmC is just as good as ever, if not better than it's ever been. The part where it doesn't quite hold up, or rather was always kinda iffy and I never really thought about it years ago, is its kinda sexist. Or, at least, it uses a lot of sexist language, and has some bad tropes. There's a lot of "whore" thrown around in the dialog, and stuff like "implied sexual assault backstory" trope for one of the main characters, and I'm not a fan of that.
Overall though, it's still a blast to play. If you never played it, or have only ever played the mainline DMC games, definitely give it a shot. It's super fun, and despite my wishing it would sate my desire for Devil May Cry, I only feel like I could go for more...
Dead Cells is one of those games that I knew within minutes of starting it that I really liked it. Sometimes a game just clicks, and this is one of those games. There have been a lot of rogue-like-lites over the years, and while I haven't played a huge number of them, I will say that this is one of the best ones I've ever played. Spelunky is the only one that I'd probably still say is better, honestly.
There's just something about Dead Cells that feels good to play. Moving through the environments, fighting, it just feels good. And it's probably good that the game is as fun to play as it is, because while the procedural levels are varied enough that in the moment I'm not really thinking about it, but when I do think about it after the fact, I wish there was more variation to them. I don't mean between the distinct areas of the game, those all have pretty unique feels, and aesthetics, I mean that every time I go through the Promenade area, it kinda feels like I'm going through the same thing. It isn't literally the same thing, because placements of some buildings, enemies, and items change, but on the whole it feels pretty same-y from one run to the next.
And maybe that's intentional, to give an increased familiarity with each zone. Either way, it's not a huge issue, and I'd say most of the zones are varied enough in their layouts that they don't feel as same-y as that. On the procedural level scale, it's a lot closer to a Spelunky (near perfect and feels unique almost every time) than a Bloodborne Chalice Dungeon (repeats on literally the second floor).
Also key to Dead Cells working as a rogue-like-lite is the variation in all the items. A lot of the weapons fall into similar types, like a lot of the swords have the same swinging attacks, but even within those weapon types, some can have very different move-sets. I don't think the Spartan Sandals are all that fun to use, but the Hayabusa Boots are one of my favorites, despite both being shoe weapons. But even when some things have the same basic attacks, variations on what effects they have (like the Assassin Dagger doing critical hits on back attacks, or a weapon that douses enemies in flammable oil), and how those play into other item types (like a fire bomb, or the Phaser ability, which warps you right to an enemy's back, and buffs your next attack) can lead to some really interesting builds, and some of those can get extremely powerful if your stats get upgraded in the right way.
If I had to point to one flaw in the game, I guess it'd be the writing. Not that it's bad, per se, but it's a bit too far on the "jokey and thinks it's funnier than it is," side. And I know I'm not one to talk, because that's probably a fair criticism against some of my own writing too. But that, and some of the referential item names (like the Spartan Sandal being meant to kick enemies far distances) are just a bit eye-rolling at times. Luckily, the game is mostly about running through enemies and killing them, and not about reading lots of text (though there are rooms that seem to exist solely to read a little bit of lore).
Better, I think, is the game's music. Dead Cells has surprisingly good music. Good enough that I felt the need to point it out, despite my not really being the sort of person who can talk about music and sound like I know what I'm saying. Other than, I think it's good, and it fits the game well. Certainly feels like a better fit than the writing is, at least.
That's about all I have to say. It's a really fun game, and I'm still playing it, despite my having "beaten" it on my fifth run. And a handful of times since then, amongst my (admittedly fairly high relatively) runs since then. Still have plenty of things to unlock, plenty of secrets to uncover, and I look forward to it all!
What Remains of Edith Finch.
I'm a bit torn on this one. On the one hand, I think this game is really clever at times, has some super intricately detailed environments, can be pretty charming, and it's short enough that it doesn't overstay its welcome. On the other, I don't think I actually liked the story in it, and I definitely didn't like the ending. But I can't really talk about that without SPOILING it, so I'll just make a couple of quick points before I activate SPOILER ZONE:
If you're like me and were waiting for it to be free on PS+ before you played it, just go play it before reading my SPOILERS, it's only two hours long (and that was with me poking around and trying to take my time).
The cannery part is every bit as good as you've heard it is.
This game was made by the same people who made The Unfinished Swan, which if I'm being frank, I think is a better game than What Remains of Edith Finch. Play The Unfinished Swan if you haven't.
Okay, SPOILER ZONE ACTIVATE!
Normally when I write these blogs, I can just belt out what I want to say in no time, which I think can lead to me being a bit rambling, but in this case, I don't really know how to convey what I didn't like about the game. Like, I didn't like that it was ultimately about a 17 year old who dies in childbirth? But when I write it out like that, there's a part of me that thinks, "Am I just being a prude for being upset over things like, 'that's too young to be pregnant,'" when I know full well plenty of people in the world are at that age, or younger, even?
Or, maybe my issue is that it's part of the game, and more that the game doesn't do or say anything about it beyond it being a means to kill Edith, and kill her for no reason than almost all the Finches seem to die at a relatively young age?
Maybe my bigger issue with the game as a whole is how flippantly it treats these deaths. Like, one of the stories is about a baby drowning in a bathtub??? Which again, is not me saying games should never tackle the subject of a baby drowning in a bathtub, but something about it just doesn't sit right with me. That's kind of what the whole game is, or at least all the stories. Just people dying, and the game finding whimsical ways to portray it.
It just didn't sit well with me, and the more I think about it, the less I like it. I still appreciate the interesting and cool things the game does mechanically and visually, but story wise, I'm feeling pretty down on this one. Even if I'm at a loss for how exactly to convey it.
But, as I said above, if you're like me, and will play most games that are free on PS+ (I say not having even downloaded than Conan game from last month), it's probably still worth your time to play, and see if you like it more than I did. Seems like a lot of people did like it more than me, so who knows!
I think that's about it for stuff I've been playing. I normally don't write about movies, but there is one that I saw, that I have a few things I could say about...
This movie is not quite what I was expecting. I was expecting it to be nothing but Ryan Reynolds wisecracking, and slapstick hijinks ensuing. That is in there, but the movie is more serious, and more focused on the story of Tim, his feelings (good and bad) toward his father, and Detective Pikachu's own place in life than I thought it'd be. Which isn't a bad thing, per se, but I also think the movie is better at Ryan Reynolds wisecracking and slapstick hijinks than it is at trying to tug on the heartstrings.
The movie's also a lot weirder than I expected. And, I'll activate SPOILER MODE because this stuff involves the end of the movie.
So, the antagonist's main plot ends up being a two part thing. One is that he wants to put his mind into Mewtwo, which makes sense given that he's old, and in not great health. But part two is...he wants to put the minds of every human into Pokemon? Against their will, and he accomplishes this, but when he does, the entire corporeal forms of the humans gets absorbed into the Pokemon????? And then the bodies just come back at the end after Tim and Detective Pikachu stop the bad guy (Bill Nighy, but the way), and Mewtwo returns everyone to normal.
And just...how does this work? Where do the bodies go???? What about the minds of the Pokemon???? This is the sort of thing that feels like, to me, Nintendo wouldn't have allowed to happen, because it's just so wild and bizarre.
I'm not counting any of this as a knock against the movie, "realism" isn't the thing I'm looking for in Pokemon. It's just left my mind reeling about the nature of physical existence in the Pokemon universe. They do mention souls when talking about this process, and Detective Pikachu says "hell" at one point, so is it a religious thing? Is it just metaphysical? AM I OVERTHINKING IT?
And they use that as the explanation for Detective Pikachu, and as a way to return Tim's father (played by Ryan Reynolds) to his human form. Which is fine, and kind of a heartwarming moment to see the two of them hugging, and reuniting... But also I kinda wish they had left him in the Pikachu. Not that I think the movie necessarily had to end with it hinting at a sequel (which it doesn't), but I just think that'd be a more interesting ending than, "everyone's back to normal and the estranged father and son are working to repair their relationship."
And back to the, "I'm surprised Nintendo okayed this" bucket: The Ditto who can turn into humans. Has that ever been in the anime? There is a bit about it having been experimented on, and I'm not sure if that was meant to say that normal Dittos couldn't turn into humans, or what.
There's probably other stuff I could go on about, but overall, I did like the movie. Even if I was a tad disappointed that it didn't have as many laughs as I was expecting. Overall, if you've ever enjoyed Pokemon in your life, go see it. It's a good movie, and probably the best video game movie ever made? The only other one that comes close would be Rampage, which I think is a more fun movie (and certainly more bombastic), but this has the better story of the two.
I think that's it for things I have to say about things. Certainly are other games out that I want to play, but haven't bought yet. DMC5, Metro Exodus (despite hearing very mixed (leaning toward negative) things), and MK11. Which, I'd be lying if I said things like reading about the bad working conditions, crunch, etc, didn't dampen my excitement to get around to playing it. But, the more time that passes, and the more of these stories that get out there, the clearer it becomes that situations like that are closer to the norm than not for game development.
Which sucks. Someone should do something about that.
That, and the Switch release of Dragon's Dogma, and all the people playing it for the first time/Austin Walker beating the Dragon's Dogma drum has got me itching to replay that. Sadly, the large file size on the PS3 version I have access to makes that a pain to re-download, and it's still full price on PS4. Put it on sale, Capcom!
Anyway, thanks for reading!