Saturday Summaries 2019-03-09: Alt-Tabbed Beast Edition

I may have erroneously given the impression in chat the other day that I have become enervated by Giant Bomb East's "This is The Run: Altered Beast" feature. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as the bite-sized streams have been a fine way to sprinkle a little schadenfreude around to jazz up an otherwise dull afternoon. I wanted to do something a little more substantial than make goofs whenever Dan falls into a pit and write irreverent polls in the chat though, so instead I've put together a little Google Doc to chart the success of Dan and Vinny's exploits across Hades.

I present to you all The TITR: Altered Beast Tracker. (Here's a shorter bit.ly link: https://bit.ly/2IZGMdC )

The format is a little unusual, but I went with one life per line of the table because you always get three, no more no less. It makes it easier to see how far they've come from the earlier episodes; these days, both tend to have most of their lives by the time they reach the nightmarish final level of hopping goatmen and deadly pizza fish. In Hades, pizza slices you!

We all hope the next run will be the last, if only to spare Dan and Vinny from playing any more of a game they don't appear to enjoy much, but for the time being I'm going to keep updating the chart with all the new statistics I can muster (having ~10 minute long episodes definitely made this process a lot easier than my similar spreadsheet for Steal My Sunshine).

When I'm not busting out Google Office for some quick site-related adminstrative work, I also write blogs. These are some of them:

Rabi-Ribi

The Indie Game of the Week this time was yet another cute 2D spacewhipper, surprise surprise. (I'm batting around the idea of changing my preferred moniker for metroidvanias to "explormer", as in "exploratory platformer". Thoughts?) CreSpirit's Rabi-Ribi has much more in common with Cave Story than the genre's namesakes, however, with a danmaku/bullet hell element to its boss fights that make them both chaotic and compelling, especially when you hit the point of competency where you can evade most of the bullet waves and lay in the heavy blows during the downtime like a veteran bullet dodger. Doujin games tend to follow the Touhou Project route more often than not - that is, lots of half-dressed anime girls and bullet hell - but I think Rabi-Ribi is also a solid explormer by the standards of the genre: there's a huge world to explore, lots of abilities and power-ups that make a significant difference to your combat and traversal, and there's a remarkable amount of optional areas and bonus bosses to find. If you don't mind its rougher edges, like the so-so sprite graphics and world design or the slow start, I'd highly recommend it.

Link here: Indie Game of the Week 110: Rabi-Ribi

Sega Mega Drive

The third and final part of this "season" of the Mega Archive is complete, and you can read all about the Mega Drive/Genesis games leading up to the launch of Sonic the Hedgehog on the 23rd of June, 1991. When we come back later in the year, we'll have a six-part series that sees out the remainder of 1991's releases, including the introduction of the Mega CD/Sega CD and its micro-sized FMVs. The first Sonic was obviously a big deal for Sega, but it's easy to forget that it was actually the 135th game released for the system (give or take a few games with vague release dates that may have appeared before or after): that's a considerable library of games it had built up, and an equally considerable number of third-party developers that the system had drawn to it. Before I put aside the Mega Drive for several months, I'm planning to put together a list of all the developers that have produced games for it so far. Look for that in a future Saturday Summaries update.

Link here: Mega Archive: Part IX: From MegaMind to Sonic the Hedgehog

Nioh

No Caption Provided

If Rabi-Ribi wasn't Japanese enough, I've been travelling the yokai-infested roads of pre-Tokugawa period Nippon as William "Anjin" Adams in Team Ninja's excellent 2017 "Souls-like" Nioh. It's been a game I've been slow to come around to, but now I'm at the point where - though I still die regularly, especially against bosses - I appreciate all the divergent choices the game has made. Both because it helps set Nioh apart from the Souls games it venerates, but also because they make more sense for the type of game experience Nioh is specifically aiming for.

It's worth establishing early on here that the Souls comparisons are relatively skin-deep. It does have that deliberate combat that allows for devastating counters and stealth kills, the corpse runs, the occasional traps designed to kill you the first time and make you more cautious every subsequent run, and the tough set-piece boss fights against which you'll spend most of your time beating your head. However, at heart Nioh is also a loot RPG - color-coded item rarity and everything - with a strict mission structure where the goal is always apparent and the level more or less ends as soon as this target is met. It is, in essence, a different model of RPG that merely wears Souls conventions as a distinctive set of lacquered samurai armor.

Its tweaks to the formula can be found in almost every system: the corpse runs, for example, involve the player's guardian spirit. The guardian spirit, when it is following William rather than sitting on his "grave" (the last place he died) guarding the amrita (the game's level-up souls currency equivalent), allows him to create a living weapon which is a massive benefit in combat as it gives all of William's attacks an elemental boost and also makes him indestructible. If the spirit is off guarding William's grave, however, he loses that benefit; sometimes, it's best to abandon the corpse run and simply recall the spirit for its buff ability, especially if the corpse is in the boss arena and/or doesn't have a whole lot of amrita on it. More distinctions: Nioh also has a separate currency for buying and upgrading equipment from the hub area between mission zones; you can find elusive "kodama" spirits, which provide permanent boosts to your earned amrita, found cash, or equipment drops for a small fee; every piece of equipment has a rarity value that determines how many bonuses it has, and can be upgraded in several different ways - merging them with higher level equipment, or even adjusting their appearance; there's aspects like weapon familiarity (using the same weapon a lot raises its damage over time, and using the same weapon type a lot provides other benefits); there are samurai points, ninja points, and onmyo points you can acquire and use to activate new attacks and abilities: the samurai points go towards weapon skills, like parries and new combo chains, while ninja points can unlock handy consumables that are restocked at checkpoints (smoke bombs, shuriken, and anti-poison pills, for instance) and onmyo is the game's magic equivalent; the game also has stances, which changes your attack patterns: low stance attacks tend to be fast but less damaging and less likely to stagger, and high stance has the opposite effect, with mid being a balance of the two - the enemy's height and speed also factor into the preferred stance to use against them. It's all a lot to process.

As you might reasonably expect from the developers of the more recent Ninja Gaiden games, Nioh has a learning curve a mile long and a difficulty curve a mile high, both of which are only exacerbated further by the usual challenges intrinsic to the Souls model. It's taken a while to fully get to grips with the game's many systems, and there's always the ever-present concern that I'm levelling up the "wrong" way (unlike most Souls games, however, Nioh does let you respec for a moderate fee), but now that I'm finally falling into its groove I'm enjoying it a lot more. There's still a hint of Souls' more pragmatic approach to bosses - cheesing them, in so many words, or using the environment to your advantage - and the game has some fun ideas like using the emote-like gestures to placate a yokai instead of swinging a sword at them. The mission structure also has side-missions where you return to previous areas with places blocked off and new enemies to fight: both times I've revisited the first area for side-quests, for instance, they've reshaped the level considerably by starting you where the boss was originally and having you backtrack with all new enemy placements and item drops to find along the way.

I love the game's semi-realistic rendering of its yokai - goofy beasties taken from Japanese folklore that have been appearing in Japanese games for decades, but have rarely looked better - and its whole oppressively dark atmosphere, and even if I can't change much about William's physical appearance I can sure as heckfire find him some dumb mismatched gear to wear. Nioh promises to be a long-ass playthrough between all the content and the amount of times I eat dirt because my stance was wrong or I mistook the counter button for the bow again, but I can't wait to get back to it.

That's going to do it for this week's Saturday Summaries update. Next week we'll have a new Indie Game of the Week, a new feature for the Tuesday blog slot, and some new complaints about how frequently I'm getting skewered in Nioh, so be sure to tune in.

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