A Baka and His Blog 10/12/15: Ninja Pizza Gear Solid

Like Neuromancer, but with Pizza.
Like Neuromancer, but with Pizza.

Wow. It looks like I haven't posted anything since the beginning of the year. I started a lot of stuff, but never was able to stick with it. Oh well, I'm just glad to finally have something to write about.

Anyway, where do I start? The entire month of September was spent with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and I've been in a rather exhausted state ever since finishing it about a week ago. I needed a change of pace, something to bring me down from the high of Phantom Pain. Then I found Ninja Pizza Girl. Being that I happen to like all three of those subjects, I figured I'd give it a shot.

NPG is a side-scrolling platformer. You run, jump, slide and swing through the rooftops of a mega-corperate city. The story is simple: Gemma is a street-shinobi who delivers pizzas for her dad's business, Pizzarific Pizza. They are the only small, family owned pizzaria in a city ruled by a corporation that mass produces bland, overpriced pizza. As Gemma completes her pizza-runs, she attempts to help out customers while also dealing with her own self-esteem issues. The games ultimate message is about accepting oneself and not being a total jerk of a human being. Like I said, simple.

If Gemma's self-esteem gets too low, you can buy her items to raise it back up. There are also extra costumes to unlock. These reference other cyberpunk media like Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Bubblegum Crisis. Even other games such as Satellite Reign and Assault Android Cactus get a cameo.

My only real issue with NPG was the repetitive music and level design. Maybe it's just my poor eyesight, but I had trouble seeing enemies when they would pop out. They seemed to blend in with the background. Also, if you are hit or fall too often, the colors will start to wash out and turn all gray and blurry. I found that a bit annoying.

Overall, Ninja Pizza Girl is a short, fun game with charm. Now if you'll excuse me, I got some pizza to munch on.

P.S. Soon I'll be posting something about Life Is Strange, Read Only Memories and maybe even SOMA. Those are the titles I'm currently playing through.

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A Baka and His Blog 1/30/15: Lights(), Camera(), Transistor();

Another one bites the digital dust. Transistor is done. I do plan on doing New Game+ but just not quite yet. I found the overall experience enjoyable, but there were some parts of the game that I'm still struggling to figure out how I feel about them.

Better Red than dead.
Better Red than dead.

I guess I'll start with what I liked about Transistor. On an aesthetic level it was very striking. The “cyber Gilded-Age” vibe was a unique spin on the typical cyberpunk style. Having practically every aspect of the world relate to computers was cool. As for characters; while I'm not a fan of silent protagonists, Red was intriguing. At least they gave a narrative reason for why she was mute. As for the narrator, well, he was there at least. The other really good thing was the music. In fact, it was through listening to the OST a lot that I finally decided to play the game.

Now here are some aspects of Transistor that seemed to be lacking. There were really only two things; the story and the combat. First I'll just say I thought the combat mechanics were interesting and even fun at times. My only gripe was when a function would be uninstalled after reaching zero health. Often it this resulted in me losing the most powerful function available. Some encounters got really annoying when this would happen. Maybe I was doing something wrong. Actually I was. It took me some time to figure out what the limiters were for and why combat seemed so hard. I also failed to notice the passive slots until very late in the game. So yeah, my bad.

Now on to the story. While the setting and some characters were interesting; the plot was not so engaging. The main reason was the way it was conveyed. While there were lots of characters, there was absolutely no interaction with them. None of them were shown actually doing anything. The character's bios were unlocked by using their functions, and that was it. Other than the narrator and a few audio logs, you don't see anyone else. That didn't exactly give me much reason to be interested in why this calamity and the people involved with it mattered any.

It is tempting to want to compare Transistor to Bastion. That's because there are so many similarities. From combat mechanics like the limiters. Even the story set-up; there's an unknown force destroying the world and it's up to you figure out what happened and stop it. There are just too many similarities not too notice them.

Transistor was a neat experience despite some questionable decisions. Now that I have a better handle on it, I will give New Game+ a go and see if my opinion changes any. Again, I liked Transistor, there were just a few bits that could have been better.

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A Baka and His Blog 1/24/15: All Fez'd Out

Exactly how Fez made me feel.
Exactly how Fez made me feel.

Fez broke me.

Actually, it didn't really break me, I just realized I had finally reached my limits.

I don't recall what initially drew me to Fez. It just looked like another platformer. Vaguely, I was aware of their being some whole other layer to the game. But, I truly had no idea what I was in for.

First of all; I really liked how the game was so relaxed and mellow. Being able to go at my own pace and just enjoy the sights and great music was fun by itself. I've always been a fan of collect-a-thon platformers and Fez is now one of my favorites.

When I look at the numerous notes I took, I can see that I was on the verge of a solution. It just seemed that I was over-thinking and making things more complex than they needed to be. I had gotten fairly far in decoding the numbers, but didn't bother trying to figure out the alphabet. I looked it up. Still, the fact that this was an essential part of the game is awesome. It's really fascinating to think of the the sheer amount of thought that went into incorporating all these elements. I realize now how all of the clues were there from the very beginning. All that it really would have taken was some patience and logical thinking to figure out.

I don't feel that having looked up answers lessened my experience with Fez. I had a great time platforming, collecting cubes and being able to figure out the simpler puzzles. Hell, even accidentally solving something felt good.

So in short; Fez was awesome.

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A Baka and His Blog 12/20/14 New Mombasa Blues

It has been quite some time since I last played a Halo game. Actually, not since Halo 2. It was due to the Master Chief Collection Quick Look and Drews unbridled enthusiasm that compelled me to finally do some catching up. So I started Halo 3: ODST. While I enjoyed the adventures of Master Chief in the past, I was always intrigued by ODST.

I did it all for the Rookie.
I did it all for the Rookie.

As far as military sci-fi goes, the Halo series is pretty standard. Yet it does enough to set itself apart from the crowd. In terms of presentation and aesthetics; ODST is quite a departure from the main games. Instead of the one-man-army called John-117, the protagonist is simply named “The Rookie.” Just as faceless and even more silent than Master Chief, the Rookie serves as a way for the story to unfold.

I have always liked what is called the frame-story. Where it is told through multiple perspectives. ODST does an OK job at this. As the Rookie, you wander the neon drenched streets of New Mombasa seeking the whereabouts of your squad-mates. Your squad, while a bit cliché, are likable enough. There's squad leader Buck(Nathan Fillion!), sarcastic sniper Romeo, spiritual Dutch, Mickey, and tough-as-nails UNSC Navy Captain Veronica Dare.

Each level of the campaign is from a different teammates point-of-view. The missions felt varied. I especially liked the Banshee flying mission.

There was also an optional side story, told through audio logs(of course!). It involved a girl named Sadie trying to find her father during the initial attack by Covenant forces. I was only able to get about half of the logs, but the tale seemed interesting enough. For once, it attempted to show how an average person would react to what is going on the world.

The visuals of ODST are often described as being “noir”. For the most part this is true. The streets are lit only by neon signs or burning wreckage. You often have to rely on your night vision to navigate safely. Though sadly, there are no fedora sporting gumshoes hanging about. Another thing that stood out to me was New Mombasa. Its darkened skyscrapers looming against a burning skyline invoke the nightmarish vistas of the Hieronymus Bosch paintings Hell and The Garden of Earthly Delights. Given that this is just a prelude to a full scale Covenant invasion, a Hellscape seems fitting.

"Hell." Heieronymus Bosch. After 1490.

While it was on the short side, Halo: ODST was plenty fun. Having that classic Halo gameplay coupled with an interesting visual style and, of course, a moody soundtrack made for a fun experience.

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A Baka and His Blog 12/1/14 System Shocks and Solid Snakes

Part 1. System Shock 2

For several years I have heard of System Shock 2 referred to as a hallmark of PC gaming. Now I know why people have spoken of it so highly. Long before being dropped into the sunken ruins of Rapture, Irrational Games set their sights on the cold terror of interstellar space.

Having already played through Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, I thought I knew what to expect from System Shock 2. Man, was I wrong. From the opening tutorial, to the first few minutes aboard the Von Braun; I realized just how different of a game this is was from those spiritual successors. I was a bit overwhelmed at all the game was throwing at me; an inventory system, skills and skill points, weapon degradation, everything from hacking to weapon repair costing nanites, etc. This certainly was different.

However, I learned quickly. Not only would I wisely have to spend cybernetic modules, ammo and med-hypo conservation was a must. One of the first things made clear by the games is that, you, the player, are weak. This is no Doom, running and gunning are not viable options.

Overall, I found the the combination of shooting, stealth, hacking and psionic powers to provide for an exciting method of play. Though there were a few times where the atmosphere was broken by annoying design choices. Hint: infinitely spamming enemies near the endgame is never a good idea. There was some back tracking too, but nothing unbearable.

Now I want to talk about what, to me, truly elevates System Shock 2: the setting and narrative.

The Van Braun has traveled 53 trillion miles from Earth, to Tau Ceti V. One could not get any more isolated than that. I see the Von Braun representing an encapsulation of humanity. The ship itself is packed with the latest state-of-the-art technologies and luxuries. This is captured dead pan in TriOptimums corporate slogan: Military. Science. Consumer. However, outside of these comforts, separated by only the thinnest protection, the silent void presses in from all sides.

By now, the derelict starship has become so common, it takes a lot to make it a memorable setting. Unlike most though, the Von Braun is more than just a haunted house in space. When the player awakens, the ship once filled with life is now deadly, uncaring and even melancholy. The ambient sounds and eerie lighting really invoke the a distinct mood.

Another thing that SS2 does well is the use of audio logs to tell its story. We now live in an age where practically every game has audio/text logs that either move the main plot along or attempt to flesh out the larger setting. For some this works, for many others, it does not. System Shock 2 is a game in which this technique works. Hell, it was one of the first games to actually utilize this type of asynchronous storytelling. Really, the universe of System Shock 2, at once dark and fascinating, holds up well by todays standards.

And now, here are some other random thoughts I had on why I liked System Shock 2 so much.

The polar binary that exists between SHODAN and The Many is a central aspect of the plot. On the surface level, their duality is simple; biology versus machinery, the singular opposed to the plural. Despite these differences though, they both hold a common goal: the destruction or absorption of humanity. So really, who ever wins, we're fucked.

Life is also a central theme of SS2. The Many are not typical aliens out for anything as crude as galactic conquest. Instead, their aim is simply, to live, to grow and to add more players to their “symphony of life”. The Many might be one of few truly alien alien beings depicted in video games. And them there is SHODAN, who simply hates all forms of biology and see the cybernetic as the embodiment of perfection.

There is an almost ironic note to the contradictory nature of SHODAN and The Many. On one side there is SHODAN; a machine created by humans. Ever since gaining sentience she now hates her creators and their inadequate biology. Then there is The Many; a life-form made by SHODAN, in her contempt for humanity, that exalts the flesh above all and seeks to unify all living beings.

As the lone soldier, you find yourself caught between these vying sides. As well, you are a literal amalgamation of them. You are where flesh and metal meet.

Anyways, there have been my thoughts on System Shock 2. Next, for part zwei of my blog, I'm going off the deep end with Metal Gear Solid 2. I finished it about a week ago for the first time and man, what a ride it was. Hopefully, I will have that write-up soon. Stay tuned.

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A Baka and his Blog 10/29/14: From Inaba to Tau Ceti V

Oh hey, is this thing on? So I guess this is my first blog entry, whatever, let's talk about games. My first order of business is to announce that I now have a reason to write!

Today marks a momentous occasion in my gaming career. I have finally finished Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4! My total playtime was close to 150 hours, except that was over the course of nearly two years. It certainly was one hell of a a journey. I almost gave up on a few spots, but I persevered and was rewarded with some truly great gaming memories.

Looking back, I realize that this was not only the first Shin Megami Tensei game I ever played, it is now the first one I have completed. Now that I know what to expect from the Persona series, my hype level for P5 has gone critical.

Next, I will tackle Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. It's part of the main-line series, but it's still very similar in some ways to Persona. Though, from the few hours I played, it is a totally different beast in other regards. I will have more on Persona 4 and Nocturne later, instead I want to shift gears and get to the real reason for this blog: Shocktober baby!

Well, here we are, two days from Halloween. That being so, I figured now would be as good a time as any to make a blog post about how for the past month, I've been bloating myself on horror books, games and movies.

Since it is Shocktober, I had no excuse not to finally get around to experiencing System Shock 2. Even though I've played its successor BioShock, the early entries in the Shock series were a mystery to me. Still, I was excited.

As of right now, I have not yet completed System Shock 2, but I just wanted to put my thoughts down about how much this game has impressed and intrigued me so far. After only spending about 4-5 hours with it, I can see why people would say that System Shock 2 is superior to BioShock and its infinite iterations. While lacking in technical presentation and flashy set-pieces, what stands out, is the atmosphere and to a lesser extent, the game-play.

While certainly not perfect, and even a bit clunky, especially stealth, the game-play of System Shock 2 is much more robust than its modern-day equivalents. Your actions; hacking, weapon repair, healing, various Psi-abilities, are all determined by a set of basic skills and three distinct skill branches. Only a meager amount of points are given to allocate to these skills. This adds a feeling of vulnerability, you can't do everything, and what's more, you are not immune to failure. A critical failure when hacking the security system or your gun breaking during a fight are always a possibility.

What, for me, stands above the game-play is, of course, the plot and setting of System Shock 2. The majority of the action takes place aboard the Von Braun and UNN Rickenbacker, for now I won't go into to those plot details. To me, what is equally intriguing, is the larger universe that the Hackers, the protagonists, story is encapsulated within. At the games start, the tutorial quickly and nicely serves to set up the wider scope of the Shockverse. Humanity has managed to establish a firm presence through out the stars, yet, inequality and unrest are still rampant. The debut of the Von Braun, the first starship capable of faster-than-light travel seems to be only a temporary distraction from this reality.

The single, most striking aspect of System Shock 2, is just how lonely the whole game feels. Having the Von Braun travel 63 trillion miles from Earth only exacerbates the sense of overwhelming isolation. As you wander through empty corridors, with only ambient humming or the white noise of machines to fill the empty spaces, your footfalls resound on the cold metal floor, your ears poised for any sound of the Many, it isn't anxiety or dread that fills you, it's simply...emptiness.

Anyway, I will most likely have even more to say once I finish System Shock 2. I might even write about other games as well, maybe. Until then, uh, thanks for reading this.

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