Browsing the Backlog

I’ve been meaning to start this for a long time but kept tripping up over the idea that this should be a blog. Those things take upkeep though, you know? I would want it to look pretty, make it easy to find things, and have standards for my writing. A forum thread? Not feeling bad about tossing standards in the bin. My inspiration is Lawnch’s 120 Games, 1 Goal - Pile of Shame: 0 thread. They had goals and rules. I have none. I have an ever growing backlog of games that I desire to see but also want an outlet to note my thoughts and stories of my experiences. Because I’m a product of content culture or WHATEVER I can’t write these down in a Google Doc that will exist for own knowledge.

This thread I’m going to attempt to play the games I’ve amassed over my number of years on the online. I’m not going to beat every game I play, and with some that’s impossible, but I’m going to play through them until I reach an end. Maybe I’ve come to the conclusion 1/4 of the way through “This isn’t for me in any way shape or form” or maybe I play to the credits…plus a little more. WHO KNOWS?! I don’t think this will motivate me to hop into more games but will give me a more focused means to gathering my thoughts on those dang games.

First post will be Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories

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BTB #1 - Keycard to my Kingdom Hearts
I started Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories on the PS3 as part of the HD 1.5 Remix but only got through Traverse Town. I still have a PS3 technically but is now in storage. This past weekend I saw the 1.5 x 2.5 pack for PS4 on sale and I happened to have some gift cards to purchase it. With Kingdom Hearts 3 fully out there I’m probably not going to get through this whole dang series before KH3 gets spoiled for me entirely. That won’t stop me from trying.

Feels like deck building games are making a comeback. Data set this is based on includes Slay the Spire, Meteorfall, and nothing else. All you need to build a narrative. That’s the gimmick for this one, the card battle system. I haven’t figured out if there is much too it since I’m only an hour in. There are certain moments where cards are played but I’m not entirely sure what happened. My character didn’t do anything…but cards were removed from my hand. Perplexing. Despite that, I’ve enjoyed the task of crafting my deck. I imagine the variety of cards will expand quite a bit so I can tailor to my playstyle. Right now I’m working off a very limited pool but there still feels like some form of choice involved. Even if when I go into combat I’m not exactly sure it matters what I’m playing or when I’m playing it.

Piecing together my journey through Traverse Town was good stuff. Instead of a fully designed world, you use a card/key to open doors that bring you to a small block of a map. I’m unsure if the design is random or completely based on the card. I didn’t stick around long enough to play multiple of the same card to see what the result was. All I know is that this approach from a 2004 game feels UNIQUE 15 years later. So used to these fully realized worlds, that having a notable franchise with a fresh, stitched together experience makes my heart full.

I know there isn’t much for me to talk about yet but excited to hop back to see where they take me next.

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BTB #2 - Games to Break Up The Flow

Every year I host a top 100 wrestlers of the year poll called the WDKW100. It is a fun project involving some of my favorite things: spreadsheets, critical analysis, and the fine sport of professional wrestling. While I sort of front the whole thing, I have tremendous partners that help with the calculations and giving the project a little more life. My role is the sorter and presenter of information. It is the one constant in my calendar where I fully engulfed myself into something. It is also a lot of work and frankly takes a toll on me mentally during the time it runs. That’s where games came in this past weekend.

I’ve dove back into Hollow Knight after spending months away. I ran into a rut that has led to many breaks in the Souls games; a boss that I couldn’t beat. A blobby magician type being. It probably isn’t the ideal “escape” game but I needed to get outside the number crunching that was going on in my head. Even if I couldn’t beat the boss, surely there had to be other nooks and crannies to explore. That’s the point right? Well, 15 minutes in the boss was done and I felt like the world opened up while becoming more laborious than ever. Still trying to figure out if I’m missing something. I don’t mind the backtracking, there tends to be paths I either couldn’t explore before or never thought about. My last go around, months prior, was more about mainlining than anything. We were getting into GOTY season and I badly wanted to be able to enjoy that conversation. Seems like that moment his passed and I have no motivation to speed things up. But there has to be a faster way to get from Point A to Point B. Or maybe that is just how it is. Which is fine. Just…just takes me out of my rhythm a bit.

The other game I dabbling with this weekend was PolyBridge. I’ve 100% played a variation of this game in my middle school Tech class. I was bad then and I’m bad now but I will not be defeated by the necessary angels of the truss bridge. The quick sessions I’ve put in have let me dig into a problem that needs solving without focusing at all on the other problem I need solving.

Two different games accomplishing the same task; pull my attention towards literally anything other than the task at hand. Feels like I’m in a dumb grade school video but clearing your head? Yeah, it works*. Try it sometime.

Summary

*for super inconsequential things

BTB #3 - Banner Saga Continues

Okay, I’ve been doing the opposite of what I’ve been wanting to do. I’ve simply been bouncing around from game to game, getting a taste but never experiencing anything. Which, you know, ain’t always bad. Not sure I’ve had the mental capacity losing myself in a game. Ever since finishing the first, I knew that when I dipped my toe into Banner Saga 2, there was a good chance it wasn’t going to let go. I didn’t finish the first too long ago (really should start a backloggery) and I was SHOCKED how much I enjoyed it. I suck at strategy games but frankly, the game wasn’t a robust strategy game. It was a great mish-mash of a visual novel, Oregon Trail, and light strategy battles. With someone who gets bored quickly or simply can’t focus, this series feels designed to weave you in and out of modes of operation.

Only put in an hour into BS2 but dang, it gets what I came for. I’ve watched Game of Thrones but what if I could have that but with more FANTASY! Picking up with the levels and equipment from last game, I am right back at the helm of this crew of warriors I spent a little over a dozen hours previously. There are also some new players bother in my party and starring across from me in dialogue.

There is also a challenge mode thing that I think I like? I never picked up most of the strategies in the first game and always tried forcing my way through. I understood how things worked but didn’t know how to work the things, you know? Seems like a smart choice that I’m glad is there for me to stink at.

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BTB #4 - Dealing With Disease Through Mobile Gaming

WARNING: This entry will likely be a little TMI (too much information) for some so feel free to tune out.

Alright, everyone here that wants to be here? Cool, so, I have Crohns Disease. For me, it isn’t anything truly major. I’ve figured out a diet that I enjoy without causing my guts to become INFLAMED. Unfortunately, I’m still in the bathroom more often than the average bear, just not as often and as painful as it could be. It stinks but you got to make the most of a bad situation I suppose. I am already a Twitter power user so that checks off two boxes with one swipe, time killing and brain worms.

At some point though I realized that Twitter wasn’t going to occupy my me for this entire duration which is why I’ve started to dabble in more iOS games. Games that can occupy me in short bursts but also give me something to sink into for my longer stays on the throne. The first one I started truly getting into was Meteorfall: Journey which I think is a lovely card game that people should play. My new iOS crush is holedown. For most people this is probably easier without referencing the game Ballz but my brain has decided that I need to take the scenic route to get where I want to go.

Ballz is a game that falls somewhere between Breakout and Miniclips Pool. You have a number of balls and you try and shoot them up at blocks to destroy them. Each block has a number which is the number of times they need to be hit to be removed from the screen. There are collectible balls on the screen so that you are shooting more balls. All balls fire from the same shot but say you have 20 balls and the block you are aiming at is a 10, 10 of your balls will hit it and then the remaining 10 will continue on that path with that block no longer obstructing it. After each shot, the screen moves down one block size with new blocks appearing at the top of the screen. It is an arcade type game so there isn’t a goal but rather how many times you can shoot before a block(s) reaches the bottom of the screen.

Now, holedown is that but flipped and gamier. You shoot down instead of up and you are shooting at “blocks” of all shapes and sizes. That’s not true, I’m being a lot, there are templates to the size of blocks so sizing is more Tetris-y. The blocks are either static or dynamic. Static blocks stand on their own and you must clear them from the board before you “crash” into them by them reaching the top of the screen. Dynamic blocks, on the other hand, can be removed by either getting them to 0 or removing the static block holding them up. There could be SEVERAL dynamic blocks on a static block. It might take some angeling to knock them out.

The “gamier” portion comes from the upgrade system and that there are definitive ends to the levels. You can upgrade the amount of balls you start with, the max balls you can hold, how many shots you can take, how many upgrade crystals you can hold, as well as a ticket to the next level. In theory you don’t need to beat a level to grab the ticket to the next level. At the end of each planet is a big ball with a BIG number that no longer crawls upwards. At this point it is less about your ability to position shots but rather how many balls you got and how many shots you have left in the tank. The whole loop GETS ME but that part? Wish they mixed it up a little. Give me a last block shaped like a T-Rex head. Something that isn’t just a ball. Something that prevents a different challenge than the one before.

holedown has one tasty loop. Yum yum yum. Thanks Martin Jonasson for taking a weird arcard game I liked into something that’s a little cutier and a little more involved. Also, thanks for occupying my time in the bathroom. You really rock for that.

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BTB #5 - Not Quite Reigning Supreme

As mentioned last time I’ve gotten into mobile gaming a good bit over the past little while. The most recent game I’ve decided to take the plunge on is Reigns, a game I have heard mostly glowing praise for. A game that has a nice angular look that gives me construction paper vibes. Definitely Cute.

The cuteness quickly falls to the backdrop as the run based game of plate spinning commences. I’m not entirely opposed to games based on balancing some bars but if you aren’t in love with the writing (me, that’s me, not in love) then you don’t have a lot going on. There are four bars you balance: Church, People, Military, Money. I may not have such a negative reaction to this game if it wasn’t for that military one. After sinking about an hour into this game I have yet to understand its triggers. If you aren’t aware of the concept of the game, it is a run-based game where you play the role of a king and then using a Swipe Left-Swipe Right mechanic you make choices. Little dots appear above any bar that will be affected by that specific choice BUT there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason for your military bar going up or down. If you go to war it could go up or down, if you pull out of war it could go up or down, I can’t figure out what appeals to the army and what makes them MAD. I’m sure I could look up the answer but when the other bars are so much easier to understand, having one that seems random doesn’t make me want to dig. The game cost $3. Enough of an investment where I will certainly try to understand but I’m not pulling up Gamefaqs to put the pieces together.

Usually, I like roguelike-like games but the hook isn’t for me. I wish I thought the game was funnier or that I felt compelled to complete tasks that transpired across runs.

In other news, I tried out Assassin’s Creed Origins having probably put a total of 2 hours into the series prior to this because I need a good “podcast game” but instead of listening to podcasts it is just me shutting my brain almost entirely off while engaging with a checklist open world game. Think this could be the one.

BTB #6 - Yeah It’s Dauntless

I’m real bad at playing my backlog but when a F2P Monster Hunter clone walks into your life who am I to deny it? With little hesitation I can say I’ve fallen head over heels. It removes so much of the weight of Monster Hunter while maintaining the nugget; gearing up and defeating monsters.

Okay, yeah, now I’m going to ramble.

I’m still early on (I think?), roughly level 21 and have officially hit a behemoth who is regularly wrecking my stuff, Riftstalker. Yet, it feels good? Wish I could say I have breezed through every fight with next to no challenge but MAN this game occasionally gives me fits in a very satisfying manner. First behemoth that beat the snot out of me was Embermane. Tiger like being that darts around the map way too fast for my liking. There is a lesser version in the intro that isn’t too bad but once I started the normal version, he moved a lot more, packed a bigger punch, and had new abilities like spewing fire that were more annoying than harmful. The first time I faced him my team wasn’t doing half bad, we had him retreat even though we all fell a time or two to pull that off. The issue was that once we engaged again…the DANGER meter filled. I’m not exactly sure what causes it to fill, I’m assuming a mix of time and times downed. I didn’t understand the effects until folks starting going down…and I couldn’t revive them. Our numbers kept going down. Eventually, I was left standing. I hung around for a few minutes, thinking if I stuck around for a bit longer, Embermane had to be near then end of its HP. I mistakenly thought I stood a chance until I missed a hammer shotgun blast. WIPED!

Despite being taken off the face of the earth, knowing that this paired down game could still provide this level of challenge made me ECSTATIC! I don’t want every fight to be a cakewalk, quite the opposite. Give me that friction. I eventually came back and started knocking the lad on their butt as other folks came in to hit the staggered beast. I’m always doing random groups and sometimes you get the right group and it all clicks without anyone saying a word. I also turn off any chat function so it has to work that way or we’ll die.

Dauntless gets what makes Monster Hunter click and distills it. I can hop in for literally 15 minutes, do a Pursuit or Patrol, upgrade some gear, log off. It fits in perfectly into my morning routine. Yes, there is a numbing factor where I get satisfaction of numbers going up but I don’t care. It works. It is easy to get in and out which is the opposite of my MHW experience. Where I’m at now in life, that’s IMPORTANT.

Here is to hoping that the game continues to find success, grow, and do new and interesting things.

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BTB #7 - Truly Slacking

Glad I didn’t start a blog for this. That would be truly embarrassing. That said the Waypoint forums truly are great and I’m glad I can keep tabs on my ramblings of the games I’m playing and the thoughts they generate in the ol’ noggin’.

First, thank you My Nintendo Rewards Program for helping me purchase Into the Breach for $0. The articles coming out of it were all the “You have to be 20 games to buy one full-price game”. I get it but also maybe didn’t take into account how important indie games would be for the Switch. I’m only buying digital games these days so racking up $8…actually I don’t know how I did that. I don’t have 8 full-priced games for the Switch so not sure how we get there. Well, I still had it and I still spent it so Into the Breach joined me on my trip from Newark to Anaheim the other week. Switch, the greatest console ever, did me a solid once again.

Now let’s talk about Into the Breach I guess. Game is kinda good, right? I spent most of this past weekend in bed with my wife, watching The Office as we were having a lazy weekend. She was playing Leap Day as she continues her quest to get every fruit on every stage ever created. She has been playing this game for over a year there are probably a dozen or so she has to complete. She decided about 6 months in she didn’t just want to beat the levels but crush them. I love my wife.

Okay, I strayed so quickly. Into the Breach, good game to lay in bed and play while watching popcorn TV with a loved one. The game is part tactics and part puzzle game and in some ways reminds me of the ways I felt when I played Babe is You, a game I haven’t touched in a minute because of the stress, but is less WEIGHTY. I can see everything and that’s so important. I don’t know how they might position themselves but I know the direct outcomes of my actions. (There might be a way to game enemies into advantageous positions but I refuse to look up tips as I’m enjoying the FIGURING IT OUT aspect of the game). The positioning is still important but it is finding ways to rearrange the pieces on the board that gives the blood pumping.

Now I just have to figure out how to use the electric whip.

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BTW #8 - Really Hopeful That Apple Arcade Isn’t Handing Out Bad Deals Because It is Delivering Good Friggin’ Games

I have been swallowed whole by the Apple Arcade discourse. Tweets of the implications of subscription based gaming on developers and the possibility of “play time” being a contributing factor for the payout to these creators are all around. I’m so used to video content being so readily available…and I still don’t think I quite grasp how games differ from these other mediums. Or rather…they do and I simply haven’t internalized the restrictions that the likes of Spotify have put on the growth of musicians. Admittedly, I try to support the creators I care about when I can, where I can so while it isn’t a perfect way to alleviate the stress of being a “bad consumer”, it is what I do to help stay sane.

Not to belittle that line of thought, Apple Arcade whips in the game department. The point has been regurgitated to the point of offering little value, but dang it does feel nice to not be worried about micro-transactions AND know that there is another game around the corner to scratch the itch. I was starting to get into a routine of buying a game every couple months for like $3 and usually I felt like I was getting my money’s worth…but I always was shying away from certain experiences specifically because they wouldn’t last me as long. The driving force behind my purchases was that I had a good amount of downtime during the day and I had a few bucks to spare per month. I know plenty of strong narrative iOS games released, but I couldn’t justify it. For mobile games, I don’t want them to value my time completely. I’m gonna be on this toilet for at least another 5, let’s milk this together. With Apple Arcade, you got the time sinks but also the “Wow what an EXPERIENCE” type games and that’s what is making me pumped about it.

Let me first start with the game all the kids are talking about, Grindstone. And yeah, it is GOOOOOOD. You got your loveable murderous miner who is jacked to the gills and ready to tear through monsters who’s crimes typically include simply being in your way. Won’t let that get in the way of a good puzzler. Go read Patrick’s piece on the game as it mostly sums up my thoughts on it being a game that outside of Apple Arcade would be a much different game. A game I would probably get to level 10 where they would clearly start introducing the energy meter then anyone knows that once you hit level 20 things get a little bit THICK, so would expect the numbers to be a little higher and a little more painful…unless you had the potion you could buy for $1.99 that would drop all chests and enemies by 2 points. The game we get though is balanced, cute, and is incredibly satisfying once you start racking up the chains. Figuring out how to get essentially “free pieces” makes you feel like a genious. The gem is the neat mechanic that allows you to change the color of your chain, but the free loot is what let’s you take that 8 to a 10 which leads to a gem that allows you to take a 6 to a 13. Dang, love it when the numbers go up.

Then you have Saranya Wild Hearts which gives you a nice little art game for the sub. Honestly, iPhone probably isn’t the best place to play it but I also enjoyed the sick beats and visuals more than I enjoyed PLAYING the game. So it honestly probably wouldn’t have been something I invested in (okay, I might invest in that Vinyl) if it weren’t for Apple Arcade. Throw in the earbuds and GO!

WHAT THE GOLF? is the gem of Apple Arcade. On the podcast I kept hearing how there were “good gags”, and yes plenty of good gags but there is also a lot of times where the game made me go "Oh wow, I can’t believe they made THAT work in the confines of ‘kinda golf’.” The game feels like a collection of themed mini-games that are meant to tickle you rather than a game built around PROGRESS, where everything builds. It builds in the areas, and sometimes not even, and then tosses it away to show you the next rad thing they figured out how to make work. There are homages to other indie and flash games each surprising and delighting.

There are three phases of each hole. First is, complete the level based on this areas basic rules. Then, it is typically (but not always) get the whole in par. It is the THIRD round, the “crown”, round, that’s where the most bits come into play but also when the game feels most exuberant. It is when it decides that the rules that by most metrics are creative and fun, look commonplace compared to the crowns. I understand how WTG would translate to other platforms but can’t help but feel that mobile is the ideal way. The game is easy to break into chunks, whip out your phone and in some spare moments you probably can crush a level or two. The game isn’t demanding so using your finger is more than fine and on certain levels where you need to be a relatively accurate and relatively quick, a finger feels better than trying to zip a mouse across a screen or fling your analog stick at the right moment. There is also the fact that you can gain perspective of some maps by moving to your device. On most maps, not particularly helpful but for maps with odd perspectives or windy turns, being able to have slightly more visuals on the landscape helps. There are a couple of other THINGS this game does that make me question how it would come across outside of mobile but I don’t want to divulge because like the rest of the game, half the fun is seeing how they do the things they do.

Apple Arcade may end being Actually Bad but until that reveals itself, I’m going to enjoy the games it gives as the work that Capy, Simogo, and Triband are too good to ignore.

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BTB #9 - They are Finally Dead

My brother and I played Dark Souls when it was released back in 2011. He was a fan of Demon Souls and like the good younger brother that I was I enjoyed watching him. He had moved out at that point, off at college, but we would still talk about games we were playing over Facebook. This was supposed to be a game we could track each other’s progress on and talk about the different ways we approached things. Except I got stuck.

The Bell Gargoyles are one of the first few bosses you face in the game and is one of the first times a game had asked me to track to punishing creatures at once. I eventually tapped out and moved on with my life. I was graduating high school and was not going to devote the emotional and mental energy to beat those henius beings developed by some cruel people. Every couple of years I would try and hop in again, more or less forgetting why I stopped, only to die a dozen times to that boss and have it all flood back. Then over the past couple of years as I try and fill in what I perceive a gap in my experiences. I haven’t beaten any From game besides Bloodborne but I always feel satisfied where I leave them, dozens of hours in.

This is where I stood this morning for a solid minute. Breathing a sigh of relief and relizing that this was likely the silliest thing for me to feel a sense of accomplishment about yet I had a slight grin across my face. Not enthusiastic but proud that after years of being stuck…I was unstuck. Now, I have since ran into two annoying bosses that I haven’t even begin to figure out an approach but I’ll tackle them soon enough. They can’t be any worse than The Bell Gargoyles.

BTB #10 - Blightown? More like Bite-Me-Town

Ah, so now I finally actually use this thread how I planned. As more of a journal to make sure these moments in games that make me light up aren’t reliant on my Twitter infested brain.

After tackling the Gargoyles and being able to soak in all that is good in the world I continued on. First I attempted down the Darkroot path, beating this…I don’t know, headless scorpion monster with a pitchfork? Now, the first time I tried going down here I accidentally wandered into the Darkroot Basin which is a WILD part of this game that I was not expecting. Having played the other SoulsBorne games, wandering into an open area where don’t have any paths to follow hurt my brain. That’s not how these games work. You typically see distinct pathways through an area so even when it appears to open up it only serves to let you see more funnels. The Darkroot Basin might have funnels but these cartoonish looking crystal jerks started coming after me. Multiple crystallized Incredible Hulks started jogging at me and FLYING through the air like they were born to do it. First, wide-open field and then agile hulking figurines? THIS IS NOT DARK SOULS PLEASE STOP TRYING TO DO ME LIKE THIS!

I died and decided I wasn’t going to be going that way for sometime. Coming back at it again, I believe I went the “right” way. I definitely got smoked by the boss but I at least got to them. Full transparency I immediately looked up how to kill the thing because I spent five minutes fighting it without having a single clue how to make progress. Sometimes that’s what you have to do though, don’t be too proud to not look up the answers.

Even with the answer I didn’t particularly want to go down that path so I worked backwards. Using a key, getting myself to the lower parts of the Undead Berg. Everywhere I had been looked like a place that’s been dead for a minute, this part of town looked like they were still finishing off burner the damn thing to the ground. Slashing my way through here I get to the Capra Demon, a boss I did and do hate. After dying once I decided that there had to be a MUCH faster way to get this truly rude Minotaur. And I was right! And the shortcut is still painfully long! That’s been my least favorite part of this game, getting back to bosses. I can’t tell if this is one of the reasons that people prefer this to other games in the lineage but I do want to be clear, I think you are wrong. Eventually, after about six times I beat the thing through hard work, dedication and a great gameplan aka I cheesed that son of a gun. The fricker would keep swinging as long as I didn’t go too far up the silly staircase and couldn’t hit me as long as I wasn’t far enough down. TACTICAL GENIUS!

From there, down I went. Deeper into the depths of this world. It wasn’t a painfully hard in THE DEPTHS but the dang place has the oddest layout. I was down there for about an hour killing everything in my path until I realized I didn’t know where I was. Afterwards, I found out I had killed an enemy that actually made the upcoming boss a tad easier. Happy accidents. And that boss? The Gaping Dragon. I’ve probably watched the beginning to this boss dozens of times before this play-through. Its still a good boss cutscene! I laugh my butt off every time. This cute alligator head gives way to a dragon that is shaped like a a very teethy mouth. That’s funny! Great gag every time.

Gaping Dragon is one of the best scaled boss fight From has probably done? Absolute unit but will move in on you. Relatively easy in the scheme of things which I guess goes hand-in-hand with feeling like a rad ass set piece. Can’t be looking all cool and stuff while I also being the most frustrating thing on the planet.

Got my BLIGHTTOWN key and mozied my way on down to this makeshift wooden underworld. After hearing about all the optimization issues of the area, going through without a hiccup felt a tad disappointing. Like I was robbed of the TRUE DARK SOULS EXPERIENCE! Well, the area is still a bit of a pain in the ass. Unlike the rest of the world, feeling like there are places that stack onto one another, Blighttown comes off as a rickety staircase. Makes sense to find multiple bonfires on the way down as I have yet to find a place to bail out. Every other jaunt I had taken around this decayed land had passageways that would lead to other locations I had seen before which allowed me to cut some truly annoying runs through the game down by a good chunk. This town of wood felt so disconnected in comparison. Once I was in, I was IN and I didn’t love that feeling as I noticed halfway down that the only weapon I had bothered to upgrade had been DEEPLY eroded during the Gaping Dragon fight.

You see, the Gaping Dragon has an attack where he spews acid on the floor. I for some reason thought it was a dice roll situation, equipment broke or it didn’t, a bad assumption on my part.

ALSO, the whole trip is a bit annoying. Enemies with toxic blow darts can make sections unbearable. FIRE BREATHING LIL’ DOGGOs?! Who does that? And what even is this thing!!!

So now I’m here, stuck on the poisonous floor of this place with a weapon that’s a few strikes from being useless. This truly is a nightmare.

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BTB #11 - Dang, these Ape Out Pics are BIG

Tried uploading some screenshots for Ape Out to Twitter but for some reason they were too big.

Game is WAY more difficult than I was expecting. I think that’s in large part in me just stinking up the joint. The game looks and sounds great and I at least want to acknowledge and show the work.

Really enjoy your write-ups and can’t wait to see more of these!

#BTB 12 - Classic Bits with Sam & Max

To start this year all I really want to do is beat Outer Wilds. Problem is, falling into a blackhole 20+ times within the first few hours turned that game from “fun space adventure of discovery and wonder” into “Sick, love wasting hours trying to avoid this stupid thing”. I am not quitting but I need a game that I can enjoy and make progress on. I have had too many games recently that aren’t clicking. So while I am trying to find the game to break-up the Outer Wilds I have gone through half a dozen games in my library that aren’t clicking. Maybe it is because I am looking for something finite. Something that I can COMPLETE and feel good with that status.

So what’s come to mind is to tackle spins on old faves. Or, in this case, a sequel. When I’m talking old faves I’m thinking types of games I haven’t played since high school or the community college. One of those games happens to be the Sam & Max series. A series I am sure I will age rather poorly…or maybe not who knows. These are point and click adventure games but the whole point is the gags. The series has a colorful cast of characters. At that point in my life, few games made me laugh or I played few games where that was sort of the point. Comedy is super juvenile though. I’m so curious how this game sticks with me in 2020. It has been close to a decade since I have played these games. I am an entirely different person with a brain completely destroyed by the internet. Then again, within 15 minutes of starting the first episode you get a gag here where the alien villian looks at Max, who has turned into a potted plant, and says to his captured human “queen”

MAYBE I AM GOING TO LOVE THIS AND DIE BECAUSE THE BRAIN WORMS ONLY MAKES THIS GAME BETTER MAYBE!

BTB #13: Diamond Dawgs 4Ever

Why do I do this? For some reason I have decided to install MGS:V after getting it in a Humble Bundle awhile back. A game I tried playing after getting it as a PS+ game and the beginning being so off-putting that I immediately uninstalled from my PS4.

I’m now like three hours in, probably more time I have immediately put in a game in months. That beginning? I still hate it! I have proclaimed this on Twitter previously and been met with “Gamers just don’t appreciate a slow-burn anymore”. And…I don’t know about ALL that. You don’t need to throw me immediately into the action but you have such limited control for roughly the first 45 minutes of this game. I only played a little bit of MGS4 so maybe the big, scary, fire man and scary gas-mask, ghost girl are staples of the series. For me, unfamiliar with anything, it was confusing and weird. Through the opening stanza, I didn’t engage at all. The game has “episodes” and this felt like the most uninteresting pilot possible. Actually, since they call it a prologue, it feels like something that a show would put on the internet knowing that it is wholly unnecessary for anyone to watch in order to appreciate the show. There is connective tissue but if you don’t see it, it won’t hurt you.

I’ve heard so many good things about the GAME though, I wanted to get to it. I wouldn’t let this intro stop me from trying the actual thing the game does. Being able to actually play that first mission, my feelings on the intro were scrubbed, yeah, the intro still SINKS, but if there was the ability to download a save to skip the intro, the game immediately feels good. There aren’t a lot of tutorial aspects from the intro that can’t be picked up by PLAYING in that first mission. The trickier stuff is taught through the first mission anyway.

Now I’m two missions deep and have done a side-op so I feel like I am truly, IN THE GAME. And all I can think about is Hitman (2016), my only touchstone for a PRESTIGE STEALTH-ACTION game. I am bad at stealth games. I usually make it 75% through a given level to where I need to be before the floor falls out. I have watched my share of Hitman Let’s Plays. They always look like they are having so much fun. Whether that is manipulating the AI in just the right way or working through the chaos. The floor falling out for them IS the fun. I don’t know why I am the way that I am but things going awry in Hitman is not FUN. I don’t technically hit a failure state…but I still feel like I’ve failed. The game feels designed so that you follow certain paths through the level, your own little story beats that lead to success. Having things break means I miss out on proper gags and the chaos of my failure isn’t a pleasure to manage.

That’s almost the opposite experience I had once some guard noticed his pal sleeping in the middle of the road because I didn’t have the energy to move him. Okay, so everyone is on alert, that stinks…or does it? No, not really, by the time they noticed I was out of the village, accomplishing what I needed. I did immediately come back to mow them all down as they were clumped together, but I’m weak and didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t “take care of them”.

The next village I needed to navigate was much bigger and layered. The whole set-up is so good. I get on a big old mountain across a valley, toss on the binoculars and scout the area. I’m a real damn action hero about to kill a Russian army in Afghanistan…nothing concerning with those optics. This time I slipped through a side path with one guard who had a good vantage point. Sleeping him made there was no one to alert him…unfortunately I start realizing these solidiers move and while they probably do have specific tracks they FEEL more complicated. Okay, so I unexpectedly run into someone. My silencer is broke so we are just shooting a loud gun in an area crawling with baddies. I have completely ruined things, bodies are dropping, this isn’t the ideal run…but I don’t feel worse for it. I am not a Hitman. Sure the greatest soldier ever should be able to sneak into a base and grab a target with barely a noise being made but I am also a super soldier so if taking down twenty guards with a series of throws and shots to the domes, that’s fine too. Sure, I will walk out with a B rank but a B rank that felt GOOD.

Then I learn about Motherbase, which, sure, I guess. Knocking out my own guards that have been brainwashed was something. Went on another mission and that was another hoot of a situation. I don’t know how far I will make it into this game but I have been looking for something that is easy to hop in and out of. The GAME, very much that…the game + story, less so.

Oh, also I hopped back into Dark Souls as I was stuck in Blighttown and couldn’t beat the boss so figured out how to escape and going to do some farming while I tackle Darkroot. Good game I say.

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BTB #14: Dark Souls…Please Stop Being You

I can’t focus. I would say I try though I am unsure if that is actually true. Last week I played a couple of hours of MGS:V and loved it. Never knew how much fun a GI Joe game was until then. Go through a base of twenty enemies like it was swiss cheese. Enemy turns a corner? POW, THROW! Another enemy sees me? POW, TRANQ TO THE FACE! The hits…they don’t stop coming.

Then for some reason, as I mentioned in my last post, I touched Dark Souls again. A game that makes me feel the opposite of MGS:V. At no point do I feel like an unstoppable force, where if things go wrong through sheer force I can turn the tide of battle. No mistake feels insurmountable in MGS:V. Do I like to suffer? I guess the real answer is I like to feel overwhelmed in games because feeling overwhelmed in real life stinks and I have no control of. A power fantasy is fun at times but sometimes you need to mimic your real-life feelings in a controlled environment. I can understand wanting to embrace something that works against your current emotional state, watching puppy videos when you’re sad, I don’t know if that helps me though. If I am going to be stressed, let me focus that so deeply that my heart is pounding out of my chest so I can wrap all the emotion of the promotion I didn’t get, the debt I can’t crawl out of, and the WORLD we are in. Let that dang spider lady make me FEEL so that my undertones are overtones.

What I am trying to say is that I am weak to Dark Souls, a game not as good as Dark Souls 2, and I can’t complain too much. Okay, I am going to complain a little, I left my last post saying I wanted to finish Darkroot. I finished Darkroot so then went to go back to Blighttown except the Firelink Shrine went out. How?! Okay, I looked into it and know how now, firelink keeper killing jer, but come on now. So now I’ve got to go from the blacksmith to Blightown but I kept dying on my way back to the bonfire through the shortcut. Well I finally got to where I needed to this morning. Then faced Quelaag. Dark Souls has this amazing ability to make me question if I’m missing something. I only seemed to get a quarter of the way through and then BLASTED into next week. And that kept happening multiple times in a row. Because I am who I am I looked into and guess what, I was doing what I was supposed to, I just STINK! Wow, this game always grounds me. With my heart pounding I manage to be patient enough to pick up the W.


And then…things get weird? I go past the boss to the Dark Ruins. Go across the “bridge”, pass through a fog gate (come on now) and see this sad-looking BIG OL’ MONSTER The game rarely makes you feel like you’re about to face a Greek Mythology style Titan but hot dang, that’s a scary one. Doesn’t move but as I round a corner I see an item sigh I know how this works. I don’t like how it works but I know. So I upset them, they lay down a floppy tenticle, I slash it, hey that’s damage! Maybe this won’t be so bad. Then it shoots a lazar beam out of its mouth I’m pretty sure and my health is almost gone. We’re running now, let’s get out, ain’t no thing, so I run back from which I came…and the fog gate is back up. What do you do? PANIC! Then the Ceasless Distraught jumps like they are a PRIDE fighter about to lay waste to someone and…they die. They stay there to get hit and die. That…huh okay…20,000 SOULS FOR THAT?! What?! Yeah, let’s hit the YouTube. SO apparently that is a known cheese of this boss. What happens is they jump and essentially stick to the ledge until they release but there is no ground underneath them anymore so they die. Would have been SICK to see a falling animation or anything instead of the assumed drop causing death. Anyway, game is weird.

Dark Souls flips between two modes, hitting a wall I want to break through or feeling that relief and confidence after breaking a wall so that I just keep going until I hit another. There is satisfaction but it only serves the loop. I love it and kind of hate it!

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BTB #15: Top 5 Reasons Why Blighttown is Better then Sen’s Fortress

I spend years unable to beat the stupid Bell Gargoyles in this game and then all of a sudden I’m making pretty consistent progress every month. It’s beautiful. Going forward the two things I knew I would run into was Blighttown and the spear/hammer boss. I was not looking forward to either. I can say at least Blighttown wasn’t this hellscape I was sold. It was actually kind of fun. Souls games often feel challenging but not quite that hostile. You have to maneuver your way through rickety scaffolding lined with enemies with poison blow darts and dots that…spit fire. Your view feels constantly obstructed by wood platforms jutting out. Almost all the levels feel like you aren’t wanted there but Blighttown feels like you aren’t supposed to be there.

So all that talk over Blighttown and no one wanted to tell me how bad Sen’s Fortress was? It STINKS! I HATE it! The fortress doesn’t “want” you there but it feels very much like you should be there. What good are traps without someone to spring them? I listened to the Bonfire Side Chat on it which helped illuminate why people liked it but it didn’t seem to wrestle with my main stressors. So, without further ado

1. BOULDERS STINK
No one likes boulders. Boulders STINK. They are big, heavy, and only get in the way. Why have em? One of giants drops it down and bounces around one of four given paths. Sometimes they can help out but most of the time they feel like they get in the way. Particularly the one that blocks the path to the BOULDER ROOM which isn’t where they boulders are but where they get pinballed down their given path. I’ll get to that in a little bit but they aren’t fun to deal with based on my time in the fortress.

2. NECESSARY NUDITY


Maybe this ISN’T 100% fact but I know I stripped before running through that dang level. Blighttown? Fully covered, keeping you warm and toasty. It might not have the desired scents but dang, I didn’t feel compelled to strip to my undies. My main reason for doing so was to access the BOULDER ROOM which, if you didn’t strip, would lead you to get slammed into, losing a huge chunk of your health on the way up. After listening to BFSC I realized that you could go a different direction. A direction with a mimic that I don’t want to talk about too much cause it hurts. Even without the BOULDER ROOM it felt like stripping and gaining some additional speed was far more important than protecting yourself slightly and trying to run through blades. Blades don’t care if you are clothed or not, they will knock you off.

3. SMALL RUNWAYS
I truly hate any part of this game that involves accurate movement, that includes runnings along tiny walkways. Perhaps, if the camera didn’t get caught on things and shift 20 yards out of nowhere I wouldn’t mind it as much but there are moments that I can be running straight and then BANG I’m taking a quick left on my way to my death. That is likely a very specific ME situation but I hate it. I hate it most games though. It doesn’t feel like a “challenge” to run across something narrow as much as it feels like an unnecessary obstacle. I don’t feel GOOD after I traverse it, just a slight release in my tension. A very “glad that’s over” situation. Dark Souls is a game FILLED with tension, I don’t need to feel a bad kind where the game isn’t at it’s best when the game is so often in a groove.

4. CHEEZE THE GIANTS
The next bit is likely going to be me complaining about something that is entirely in my control. I mean, I don’t NEED to “cheeze” the two giants in this level that cause me pain. The first being the one that drops the boulders. Killing them gives you souls but actually doesn’t help you all that much. The second one, the one that will throw LARGE firebombs at you is up a staircase next to the boss. They seemed big and mean. A quick aggro of them draws him towards the stairs where they can’t get in. Despite that they still keep trying and attacking, clipping through the wall enough to be hittable via an arrow. Or, in this case, 75 arrows…roughly. Now, I could have taken them on 1-on-1 but because this level takes so long to get through even if you know it, knowing all the traps only helps so much, risking death isn’t worth “earning a win”. The easy route feels like the correct route. The risk of losing progress wasn’t worth actually facing the problem head on.

5. Big Boss, Small Platform
Admittedly, probably the least painful part of Sen’s guess I should mention it. Not a strong bookend. The boss…he big. Big old ball of iron. The arena? Small. Tiny. No walls. NO WALLS. The boss itself isn’t all that bad but it feels like you are fighting with the environment just as much as the bad lad. In a level designed around the environment trying to kill you dead, it makes sense that the BOSS is less of an issue than the area where you fight them. Just like the rest of the area though it works against how I like my Souls. I don’t want to fight the environment, I want to fight enemies even when circumstances aren’t ideal. I would rather archers be reigning down on me while I try and take out a multitude of folks than try and duel with one while in a trapped room. EDIT: The kicker is that the arena limitation doesn’t effect the parties equally. Understand if an arena benefits the boss but this benefits with the consequence of death without being able to force that same limitation on the BIG IRON KNIGHT FELLA

BTB #16: Gaming During A Time

I had a whole thing worked out. I nearly quit Dark Souls after reaching the archers in Arno Londo. I also got my first ever victory in Into The Breach. There were TAKES I had. I can’t even fathom talking about that right now.

This thread is for me at the end of the day. People are going to have so many TAKES about COVID-19 and GAMES. I am not delivering takes, my takes aren’t great ever and this has a gravity that I would feel big uncomfortable on this.

The past three days have been truly odd. My work emailed us on Friday said “OPTIONAL WORK FROM HOME” to yesterday “MANDATORY WORK FROM HOME”. I have an hour commute so this wasn’t the worst possible news imaginable. I like the people I work with and seeing them helped ground me on a regular basis. I grew into being an introvert in college so if it wasn’t for work, I would likely stay in at all possible hours outside of picking up groceries. This isn’t exactly a tendency that I LOVE but it is who I am and I accept that. For the next 8 weeks it is going to be me, my wife, and our dog. That’s a lot! I love them and glad they are here and I know it will prevent me from spiraling to bad. Just worried about succumbing to my worst habits during this time.

Then the other fun thing is that my wife is a baker who does wholesale vegan bake goods. Her stuff is still selling at locations tremendously well…but the foot traffic overall in these coffee shops has been severely depleted. This has led to a cutdown in hours, people losing their jobs, and now the State has said all restaurants need to ONLY allow takeout going forward. She is being hurt so badly by this and she can’t even figure out otherwise to supplement her income because all the stores are out of her necessary ingredients. She might lose this thing she loves and it stings. I can barely take it. Giver her a follow on IG https://www.instagram.com/mylkandhunny_/?hl=en


But hey, in the meantime I discovered that I get incredible comfort from MetalJesusRocks RECENT PICKUP videos. While it isn’t PLAYING it is consuming I guess and I’m nothing else if not a consumer baby! I don’t think the creator has many interesting opinions but when him and someone else are going back and forth on games I never heard of that often look NOT THAT GOOD, and going “You know what? I enjoyed Cars 3: The Game” I am soothed. Firmly not in the DON’T CRITICIZE THINGS camp but to hear the most light knocks on any game felt good. Like…I finally felt like “Oh, I like this thing that ISN’T super analytical” which is typically not me. It is something I can put in the background while doing other things and feel peace. Very few things provide that good white noise I’m looking for. Anything right now that can bring a bit of warmth to my days is appreciated.

BTB #17: Looking for Progress

Something I have tried doing recently is tie my backlog order to the Watch Out For Fireballs podcast from DuckFeedTV. It is a video game book club type podcast that I have sort of fallen in love with. It is a good part of the reason I was playing the original Dark Souls, technically that is their Bonfire Side Chat podcast but same ideology but specifically for Souls games, after getting at points that I had originally deemed perfect jumping off points. It is a game I don’t like as much as…well any other of the From games I think but listening to them talk through an area that I had just completed has been joyful. I don’t have a lot of people to talk games with or work through thoughts with so at least experiencing that back and forth gives the goodest of vibes.

I saw that they recently played Axiom Verge and thought…OH I have that! Epic recently gave it a way for free, so perfect one to be able to listen to a more current episode and feel a part of that discussion.

Unfortunately I kind of hate the game. It is a Metroid-like where certain paths are gated until you get the corresponding abilities. The game at least helped shed light on something I wasn’t aware of before, I need to feel progress in these types of games. Over the first hour and a half I played, I saw a wild variety of enemies that all looked sick, vibrant locations, and got to a couple of bosses that would fit into a DOOM (2016) type Hell. That mix of organic/inorganic sort of icky stuff. Heck yeah. Wish I understood what it was all in service of.

image
Game just having cool vibes

I kept making forward progress…until I could’t. So I want down another path that went on a while…until it didn’t and I went down another path. My progress was impeded but I knew I would stumble upon what I needed eventually. That’s a NORMAL thing but I often found I was running into the same issue over and over again. “Oh, I can’t jump here, I’ll come back when I get the double jump.” and then “Dang, too high, I’ll come back when I nab the double jump” and then three areas later “Cool another spot too high to jump. Where the HECK is the double jump”. When I did find it I was 6 save points away from the first spot I couldn’t reach. Over the course of this trip I have seen so many different colored areas. Sure, I will probably trigger another story beat eventually but the game does such a poor job dangling the carot on the string. The game looks cool as heck without giving me much of a reason to explore beyond that. Even beating a boss doesn’t feel like it dramatically affects my standing in the game. The game feels barren of objectives. Because there are only certain paths you can go down it doesn’t feel like there is fun exploration to be had. I at one point stumbled upon this whole glitchy area which I was hoping was going to be the sort of secret find that got my juices flowing. Not so fast though. I died, went back to the save a good distance away and since I already didn’t feel as though I was making progress towards any sort of goal, as nothing had been laid out, it seemed pointless to explore. What could I find there that would make these worthwhile if the game itself already couldn’t provide semblance or reward.

I wanted to listen to that episode of WOFF and feel rewarded. This game has made that too much of a challenge though. That doesn’t feel like a worthwhile endeavor. I wrote this post so I may close this chapter on the game for me. Peace out Axiom Verge.

BTB # 18: Finally Finished Something…WASN’T GREAT!

last week decided to pick Mirror’s Edge up again to do the thing where I can hopefully listen to the Watch Out For Fireballs episode on it no problem. And someway, somehow I beat it! Okay, not really fair, game is real short. Have to check but beat it probably in less than 6 hours? Needed that sort of experience in my life. Can’t remember the last game I actually finished. I’m not mad I dropped Axiom Verge, if anything I feel so much more justified in it. Let me get into THIS game first though.

Mirror’s Edge is one of the most visually pleasing games I’ve ever played. What they do with color scratched an itch in my brain. Going to just toss in some screenshots now since, despite starting this blog/thread/thing I spew words into, articulating concepts isn’t a strong suit. Never have I taken more screenshots in a game




Like…infuriatingly good looking! I mostly showed indoor sections here because the colors hit different there. The magic of running outdoors (besides the whole cool running bits) is the SCALE! That crane you are running on? Well eventually you are going to land on that red mat over there! “Runner Vision” is a stupid name but seeing something POP red and jumping on the opportunity feels and looks GOOD! Being able to see your potential path from a mile away also is Actually Good. That seems harder to reflect in some of the screenshots though. It isn’t exactly a “If you can see it you can go there” situation but not terribly far off the mark.

Never have I played a game so good looking despite not terribly enjoying the majority of the rest of the package! The story is bad and silly at the same time. Classic twists and turns all over the place. One of the reveals actually got me laughing out loud. This game isn’t supposed to be funny yet here I am, crying. Now, apparently people HATED the flash animated cut-scenes and I get it but also, I sort of found them charming? Look at this stuff


Between this and the wacky story beats, this could have been fun campy! Problem being the story isn’t just wacky, it is downright incoherent at times. This world seems potentially neat but you are thrown into this mess of a plot before anything is fleshed out in the slightest. Everything is meaningless! I don’t ask for much. If they set up the world slightly more and leaned into the sillyness instead of adding layers of gruffness, at the five hour runtime this could have been a real fun package.

The game itself is great when you are allowed to get into a groove, hit sweet jumps and do the RUNNER thing. The game is not great when doing most other things. That includes but is not limited to: misleading color direction, jumps being missed for seemingly no reason which leads you to wonder if you are doing it wrong so you try something different a handful of times before trying the original thing and it working, shooting at people, shimmying across ledges, and indoor levels where you don’t have much flexibility. The thing out of the bunch that felt redeemable was the shooting. It is sub-par BUT the concept of flying around a set-piece and finding angles to take out fully armoured enemies sounds like it might have been a real good time. Unfortunately the gunplay isn’t fun, makes you slow, and the places where they want you to engage in combat most don’t seem all that interested in using the arena to your advantage. WHAMP WHAMP

Wrapping back to Axiom Verge, since I dropped that right before hopping into this, Mirror’s Edge never made me feel like my time was worthless. The visuals were a strong enough carrot on a string to lure me through what ends up being a short experience. I never felt like I was veering off to a pointless course. Open-ended games our good and fine but if there isn’t something along the way that makes the experience feel justified, I won’t be able to stick with a game. Even if I’m not even sure if Mirror’s Edge is a BETTER game, sometimes a truly excellent component can help push through a lot of muck.

TL:DR FINAL THOUGHTS: Mirror’s Edge is a game that felt destined to be improved upon. The game looks SO good and hitting stride kicks so MUCH butt that everything else feels like a barrier to a truly GREAT game. And I mean everything else. This is what I got though and I don’t hate what it is but I can’t get my brain out of the “look at the potential” mode. Just LOOK AT IT!

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